Coronavirus has reached the Antarctic, which had so far been the only continent free of the disease. The news means that cases have now been recorded on all seven continents.
The Chilean army has reported at least 36 cases at its Bernardo O’Higgins research station on the Antarctic Peninsula. Twenty-six of the cases are military personnel and 10 maintenance workers.
Chilean health and army officials scrambled to quarantine staff from the remote research station, reports the BBC. All have now been evacuated to Chile but the Magallanes region, one of the closest populated areas to Antarctica and take-off point for many boats and planes headed to the continent, is among the hardest-hit in Chile.
Chile is the sixth worst-affected country in Latin America with more than 585,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
The news comes just days after Chile’s navy confirmed three cases on a ship which had taken supplies and personnel to the research station. Chile’s navy said all of those who had embarked on the trip to the Antarctic had now been given PCR tests and all the results had been negative.
Research and military stations in Antarctica – among the most remote in the world – have gone to great lengths in recent months to keep the virus out, cancelling tourism, reducing activities and locking down facilities, says Reuters.
The British Antarctic Survey announced in August that it was scaling back its research in the polar south because of the threat of coronavirus.
Researchers with the Survey estimate about 1,000 people at 38 stations across the frozen continent had safely navigated the southern hemisphere winter without incident. But an uptick in travel to and from the region this spring and early summer have heightened infection risk.
Much of the area, blasted by cold winds off the ocean, mountains and glaciers, has been under quarantine restrictions for months.