Coronavirus pandemic: Antarctic outpost hit by Covid-19 outbreak

A Belgian scientific research station in Antarctica has been hit with an outbreak of Covid-19, despite workers being fully vaccinated and based in one of the world's remotest regions.

Since 14 December, 11 workers at the Princess Elisabeth Polar Station have caught the virus. All have now recovered.

"The situation isn't dramatic," Joseph Cheek, a project manager for the International Polar Foundation, told the BBC.

"While it has been an inconvenience to have to quarantine certain members of the staff who caught the virus, it hasn't significantly affected our work at the station overall," Mr Cheek said.

"All residents of the station were offered the opportunity to leave on a scheduled flight on 12 January. However, they all expressed their wish to stay and continue their work," he added.

News of the outbreak was first reported in Belgian title Le Soir.


The IPF said that the first positive test was recorded on the 15 December, among a team that had arrived a few days earlier from Cape Town in South Africa.

Eleven people in total tested positive, according to the IPF. Three left the station in December while eight remain there - at present there are 30 members of staff at the station.

All residents at the base are required to be vaccinated before arriving and undergo several PCR tests.

Princess Elisabeth station is operated by the International Polar Foundation and went into service in 2009.

It isn't the first time research stations in Antarctica have been affected by a coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus has reached the Antarctic continent, which had so far been free of Covid-19.

The Chilean army has reported 36 cases at its Bernardo O'Higgins research station on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The 36, 26 of whom are military personnel and 10 maintenance workers, have been evacuated to Chile.

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.

The news means that Covid cases have now been recorded on all seven continents.

The Sargento Aldea arrived at the research station on 27 November and sailed back to Chile on 10 December.

Three of its crew tested positive upon their return to the Chilean naval base in Talcahuano.

Chile's navy said all of those who had embarked on the trip to the Antarctic had been given PCR tests and all the results had been negative.

The Bernardo O'Higgins research station is one of four permanent bases which Chile has in the Antarctic and is operated by the army.

Chile is the sixth worst-affected country in Latin America with more than 585,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.

The British Antarctic Survey announced in August that it was scaling back its research in the polar south because of coronavirus.

Last year, a number of Chilean military personnel based at Bernardo O'Higgins research station were infected after sailors on a supply ship tested positive for the virus.

Update 5th January: This article originally reported the number of people infected at 16. It has since been established that this number was incorrect and so we have amended this line in the story.

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