Has the coronavirus, reached Antarctica?
Could I go there to stay safe?
Is there Coronavirus, Covid-19 in Antarctica?
Yes - it was first recorded in Antarctica on the 20th of December 2020
The last continent on earth to record a coronavirus case finally did so at the end of December in a year which saw the novel pandemic reach every other continent on the planet months earlier by the time it reached Antarctica, it had contaminated at least 78 million people in confirmed cases and caused over 1.7 million deaths.
36 people tested positive comprising 26 military personnel and 10 civilian contractors. The disease was carried by a ship travelling from Chile which was at the Chilean General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme Base at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. base from the 27th of November to the 10th of December. the outbreak is confined to that base.
Is the virus likely to spread within Antarctica? No, at least not from that particular base. Scientific stations in Antarctica are supplied from the north, from South America, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, there is no or very little interaction or visits or exchange of personnel between bases on Antarctica.
By their normal way of working, Antarctic bases operate in what is effectively a state of quarantine. This will serve to isolate them from each other, they are more like extensions of the country which runs the base than as integral parts of the Antarctic continent as far as mingling and viral spread are concerned.
|When can I travel to Antarctica now?||The winter months are from approximately March to October, there are no ships or flights going to or from Antarctica during that time. Tourist trips in the summer season are currently suspended during the covid pandemic.|
|Can't I just make my own way there?||No. There is no easy transport in or out at any time and none at all during the winter, you can't grab a lift using good looks and charm or even pay an unreasonable amount of money to get there.|
|I've got a boat / plane / can-do attitude, you can't stop me!||
Constant darkness, icebergs, seasonal sea-ice formation
that extends dozens of miles beyond the land, powerful
winter storms, constant wind, extreme low temperatures
and virtually no chance of rescue when you get into
There's also the fact that you need to ask permission from your government to go there, usually many months in advance with full details of how you will get there, what you want to do when you're there and how you will ensure that you fulfill the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty including the environmental aspects.
|Are there hotels or other accommodation where I can self-isolate if I get there later?||No. The only tourist accommodation in Antarctica is on cruise ships in the summer months which are currently suspended, there are no land-based hotels and no hospitality industry. Arrival at a scientific base looking to borrow a cup of sugar or use the facilities will be met with a frosty reception (pun intended).|
|But I'm great fun, I can help with basic chores and I can make great doughnuts!||Arriving at an Antarctic station would be like rowing up to an oil rig and asking if you can live there, or an army base, or a remote mining facility, it's not going to happen.|
sea ice around Antarctica grows by around an additional 18 million
square kilometers in the winter.
The peak is in September or October and mimimum in January or February.
Antarctica was the only continent without covid-19
Penguins laugh in the face of Covid-19
(do not try this at home)
For most of 2020 Antarctica was totally isolated from the rest of the world as the point at which the virus was starting to increase significantly in the number of cases and deaths worldwide, co-incidentally happened to be the time when Antarctica physically closed off from the rest of the world for its annual winter isolation period.
There are only really two seasons in Antarctica, summer and winter, spring and autumn/fall are so brief and unpredictable that they are generally disregarded. Summer is October/November to March/April and the rest of the year is winter.
So can I go and isolate in Antarctica?
Everyone in Antarctica is currently on nationally run scientific stations which are entirely self-sufficient with enough food and supplies for at least a year and probably more.
These people all have specific specialized jobs that they were recruited for months or maybe up to a year ago. There are no "guests" so even if you could get there, you wouldn't be welcome and there would be no facilities for you.
There are about 1,000 people who overwinter in Antarctica each year and so are in isolation from the rest of the world on their own particular scientific station where there are anywhere from about 10 to 250 in total, though typically from 10-20 - and no, you can't join them this year!*
The distinction between summer and winter is made all the more clear to the winterers as summer means contact with the outside world in the form of flights and visits from ships whereas the winter means no such contacts for most of them, no-one in and no-one out. There are sometimes late winter or early summer flights in before the ships can arrive, but there is still period of several months of isolation.
Palmer Station Midwinter Greetings, 21st of June, groups like this are co-incidentally isolated from coronavirus due to being in Antarctica over the winter where they would have been anyway (this picture from a few years ago).
* Well not this year anyway, but you could maybe next or in a couple of years time, find a job in Antarctica.
In the meantime, like most of the 7.7 billion people in the world who are not able to isolate themselves in Antarctica, remember to:
Wash you hands - properly - using soap - regularly.
Self isolate at home if you think you have coronavirus.
Maintain social distancing from all except those you live with.
Avoid groups especially indoors in close proximity.
Stay away from extremely vulnerable people, the over 70's and those with underlying health problems.
Picture of Coronavirus SARS CoV-2 used courtesy of Felipe Esquivel Reed under CC by SA 4.0 licence.