Antarctica research station hit by Covid outbreak despite remote location and pre-trip testing

A scientific research station in Antarctica is grappling with an outbreak of coronavirus, despite its remote location and small team.

Sixteen of the 25 workers at the Princess Elisabeth Polar Station, a Belgian outpost, have contracted the virus since 14 December.

They had all been tested prior to departure and had been fully vaccinated.

All cases are mild so far, officials said, and the staff are continuing to work.

The workers were given the opportunity to leave the station in mid-January but have all decided to stay.

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.”

He added: “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.”

The first case was recorded on 14 December in a member of the team who had arrived seven days before.

The individual was quickly placed into isolation but others later tested positive.

Two emergency doctors are at the station, but all new arrivals have been suspended.

Antarctica recorded its first coronavirus case in December 2020, and was the last continent to detect the virus.

The outbreak occurred at a Chilean army base, with 36 people testing positive.

There are 70 international research bases at the South Pole, including five British stations.

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