Antarctica records its first COVID-19 cases

antarctica covid cases
Photo via Rosa Menkman/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Every part of the world has been affected by coronavirus—now even the southernmost part of it, as Antarctica reported 36 COVID-19 cases on Dec. 20, becoming the seventh and final continent on Earth with cases. 

According to CNN, the General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme Base, a Chilean research base on Antarctica’s northernmost Trinity Peninsula, reported 26 army personnel and 10 contractor civilians at the base tested positive for coronavirus. 

The outbreak occurred after three people tested positive for COVID-19 on a military vessel supplying logistical support to O’Higgins between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10. All 208 crew members on that vessel were tested on Dec. 16, which uncovered three positive results. 

Personnel at O’Higgins who tested positive for COVID-19 have been evacuated to Punta Arenas, Chile, according to the Guardian, where they reportedly remain in good health under isolation. 

According to a statement from the Chilean army, they are being “constantly monitored with the support from the Health Authority of the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Region, achieving so far a favorable diagnosis and without any complications associated with COVID-19 by our staff.” 

As the BBC noted in its reporting on the story, Chile is one of the most affected nations in the Americas, with more than 630,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.

A September article from the Associated Press mused on whether the approximately 1,000 people making up a community on the continent, primarily scientists, could maintain a coronavirus-free existence. 

The AP article referenced a document from the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs warning of what could happen should a visitor from another continent bring COVID-19 to Antarctica. 

“A highly infectious novel virus with significant mortality and morbidity in the extreme and austere environment of Antarctica with limited sophistication of medical care and public health responses is High Risk with potential catastrophic consequences,” the document said. 

Sources: CNN, The Guardian, BBC, AP

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