As covid-19 advances around the world, a single continent remains untouched by the disease: Antarctica, which holds up to 5,000 people from 29 nations in 80 research bases. Since the start of the pandemic, this crowd has watched the virus spread country by country, and is now trying to return, to the gates of darkness and the deadly temperatures of the polar winter.
With the closure of borders, the suspension of commercial flights and the quarantine imposed by countries along the way, the teams face difficulties to get home. Britain gathered its staff at the main station in Rothera; almost all (except the main British Antarctic Survey team – BAS, in English) will take alternative routes, since the usual route (through Chile) is closed.
The solution is being to take everyone to the Malvinas Islands, off the Argentine coast, and accommodate them on a cruise ship (which will act as a quarantine) rented until boarding Royal Air Force planes.
The first 30 of 90 researchers sailed back to Britain on Sunday, crossing the South Atlantic from Argentina to Senegal, in West Africa, where the plane refueled (Ascension Island and Cape Verde, the usual stops, are with their airports closed because of the pandemic).
Mission: keep Sars-Cov-2 away
A single task now mobilizes Antarctic science agencies: keeping the coronavirus off the continent. “We are working hard to do this,” BAS director Jane Francis told the BBC. This work, however, may already be useless: on the 13th, the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) asked Australia for help to remove a member of its team.
The Australians then sent a medical team to the McMurdo base, some 3,500 km south of New Zealand and under temperatures of – 30 ° C. The two countries refused to reveal what affected the American, who was part of a newly arrived expedition.
More departures than arrivals
The Italians left on a South Korean ship bound for New Zealand (where they are due to land on Thursday, the 9th), with no idea how they will return home, as all flights to Italy have been canceled.
The Brazilian team left Comandante Ferraz Station on the 19th, on board the ship Almirante Maximiano, which stopped to refuel in the Argentine city of Ushuaia. No one was allowed to land.
The best and worst place to be in a pandemic
If the continent offers the best quarantine on the planet, it is also the worst place to be if covid-19 emerges: there are few doctors, assisted by an almost non-existent nurse corps and with resources that include few fans and no treatment material. severe respiratory failure.
“No continent is immune, including Antarctica. Living here is like being on the moon or on the way to Mars. You can’t get people out of here. A medical evacuation in nine of the twelve months of the year is impossible, ”Australian Aytar Division medical director Jeff Ayton told The Washington Post.