Antarctica, the only continent without coronavirus, braces for summer rotation

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Antarctica Flights operates 12-hour sightseeing tours over the continent that take off and land on the same day.

Courtesy of Antarctica Flights

The coronavirus has ravaged the world now for nine months, with people across the globe enduring lockdowns of varying intensities, workplace and school shutdowns and restrictions on group gatherings.

Yet there’s still one continent that’s been untouched by the virus: Antarctica, the coldest and most isolated part of the world.

“It’s absolutely mental to think about,” said Karin Jansdotter, who has lived with five other people in an Antarctica research station for nearly a year and has missed the pandemic entirely.

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“It’s almost scary how lucky we are. Out of all the people on the planet, we’re the ones who aren’t experiencing it,” she said.

Roughly 1,020 people have lived in darkness and isolation at various base stations throughout Antarctica during the harsh winter months. But as winter comes to a close, teams across Antarctica are preparing not only for summer research plans, but critical global efforts to ensure that incoming colleagues for the summer rotation do not bring Covid-19 to the continent.

Even in non-pandemic circumstances, few people are allowed in and out of Antarctica, which does not have the capacity to contain an illness spread given its remoteness and limited medical facilities.

Keeping Antarctica from getting its first case of coronavirus has been a top priority for countries that have bases on the continent.

Those who begin entering during the summer will undergo a two-week quarantine upon arrival and at gateway cities like Cape Town, South Africa and Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as testing measures.

“It’s been our highest priority to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t enter the continent,” said Alexandra Isern, the head of Antarctic sciences for the U.S. program with the National Science Foundation. “Medical facilities aren’t designed for what would be a rapid spread in the stations.”

Antarctica Flights operates 12-hour sightseeing tours over the continent that take off and land on the same day.

Due to weather conditions, traveling in and out of the continent during the winter is extremely difficult. Even in an emergency situation, taking an aircraft out of the continent could require a couple weeks in order to open up an airfield.

“We’re vulnerable when it comes to getting us out of here,”

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