An Antarctic research station has reported cases of Covid-19, meaning the virus has now reached every continent on the planet.
On Monday, the Chilean research base confirmed 36 new infections of Covid-19, including 26 members of the Chilean army and 10 maintenance workers.
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In a statement, the Chilean army said: “Thanks to the timely preventive action […] it was possible to relieve said personnel, who, after being subjected to a medical control and the administration of a PCR test […] turned out to be positive for Covid-19.”
The Chilean army also said that three crew members on a ship providing support to the research centre have also tested positive for Covid-19 since returning to Chile.
The 36 individuals who tested positive at the General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme research centre (one of 13 Chilean bases in Antarctica) have since been evacuated to the city of Punta Arenas in southern Chile, where they will now self-isolate.
All major collaborative research projects in Antarctica have been halted throughout 2020 due to the virus, after scientists took swift action to prevent its spread. Some researchers have remained on the continent – around 1000 were based there over the winter months (our summer) – conducting smaller-scale experiments.
Researchers in Antarctica took quick action to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. A document by the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs, seen by the Associated Press and issued in March, said: “A highly infectious novel virus with significant mortality and morbidity in the extreme and austere environment of Antarctica with limited sophistication of medical care and public health responses is high risk with potential catastrophic consequences.”
In October, the Telegraph spoke to a kitchen worker at a Norwegian Antarctic research base, who has watched the world unravel from afar.
“I was dreading returning to the ‘real world’,” said chef Karin Jansdotter from her research centre. “But now I have found out I will be staying in Antarctica until next March. Hopefully, the coronavirus situation will have changed by then.”
Since November 2019, the 34-year-old Swede has been working and living in isolation at Troll, the Norwegian polar scientific research base.
“In the beginning, it was so surreal seeing the news and being so far away. I felt so helpless,” she said.
“The only thing I could do was call my parents and tell them to be careful and to stay home from work. If they get sick I can’t go home. They have listened to my advice which makes me feel calmer.”
With Covid-19 cases confirmed in Antarctica, the number of places with no confirmed cases of Covid-19 is shrinking ever smaller. Of the UN member states, only the Pacific islands of Kiribati, Micronesia, Tonga, Palau, Nauru and Tuvalu have remained Covid-free. North Korea and Turkmenistan also claim to have no Covid cases, although this is disputed.
There are also nine dependent territories with no cases of Covid-19: the Cook Islands, Saint Helena, Svalbard, Christmas Island, Niue, Norfolk Island, Tokelau, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the Pitcairn Islands.
The virus reached the six other continents on Earth by late February 2020. The first case in Asia was reported in China in December 2019. The virus was then recorded in Europe (France) on January 11 and in North America (United States) on January 21. The first recorded case in Australasia (in Melbourne, Australia) was on January 25, then in Africa (Egypt) on February 14 and South America (Brazil) on February 26.
Countries with no Covid
Eight sovereign states and nine dependent territories have not confirmed any cases of Covid-19 – although some doubts remain on North Korea and Turkmenistan.
• North Korea (population: 25,550,000)
• Turkmenistan (6,031,187)
• Kiribati (120,100)
• Micronesia (104,650)
• Tonga (100,650)
• Palau (17,900)
• Cook Islands (15,200)
• Nauru (11,000)
• Tuvalu (10,507)
• Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (5633)
• Svalbard and Jan Mayen (2667)
• Christmas Island (1955)
• Niue (1784)
• Norfolk Island (1735)
• Tokelau (1499)
• Cocos (Keeling) Islands (555)
• Pitcairn Islands (50)
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