COVID-19 reaches Antarctica, pandemic now on every continent

TORONTO — The novel coronavirus has now spread to every continent on Earth.

Three dozen people have reportedly contracted COVID-19 at a Chilean research base in Antarctica, which was for months the only landmass untouched by the global pandemic.

According to several Spanish-language reports on Monday, the positive cases include mostly members of the Chilean Army as well as 10 maintenance contractors at the Bernardo O’Higgins research base on the northernmost point of the Antarctic Peninsula. Last week, a Chilean newspaper reported that the government was aware of positive COVID-19 test results among members of a group that travelled to Antarctica.

“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 said in a statement, according to broadcaster 24 Horas.

The PCR test, or the polymerase chain reaction test, is the gold standard lab test to determine the presence of COVID-19.

Health officials also administered more than 100 COVID-19 tests in Villa Las Estrellas, a Chilean village and research station on King George Island, and found one positive case of the virus.

All positive cases have been moved off the continent, across a stretch of the Southern Ocean to quarantine in Punta Arenas, the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region.

There are no permanent residents on the continent, but 1,000 scientists and other professionals stayed there over the winter months, from March to October. In early September, the Associated Press reported U.K. scientists described life in the “safe little bubble” as one of freedom.

“In general, the freedoms afforded to us are more extensive than those in the U.K. at the height of lockdown,” said field guide Rob Taylor. “We can ski, socialize normally, run, use the gym, all within reason.” 

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