For months, the hundreds of scientists and researchers who live in Antarctica have inhabited the only continent in the world without a reported case of COVID-19. But now the virus has reached even there.
Three dozen people at a Chilean base have tested positive, the country’s army announced Monday. On Tuesday, a regional health minister in Chile said there are 21 infections involving people aboard the Chilean navy’s Sargento Aldea supply vessel.
Passengers on that ship, which sailed to Chile from the Antarctic Peninsula, tested positive for COVID-19, the Chilean Antarctic Institute informed The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs on Friday, according to a statement emailed to USA TODAY.
Another case has been reported at an Antarctic village where that ship docked, according to regional health secretary Eduardo Castillo.
The U.S. National Science Foundation is aware of reports of the outbreak, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY. But personnel at U.S. Antarctic Program stations would have no contact with Chilean stations, including the one with the reported outbreak: the O’Higgins Antarctic Station..
No other country with a presence in Antarctica has yet publicly reported cases.
Efforts to keep the virus out of Antarctica have been robust, as leaders have feared an outbreak could be devastating in the remote region where people shelter from the elements in close quarters and medical capabilities are limited.
Michelle Rogan-Finnemore, executive secretary of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs, previously said people planning to travel to Antarctica are typically tested in their home countries before leaving and then quarantined for at least two weeks in their final gateway country before flying to Antarctica. Once there, she said, people are typically tested again and are required at first to remain socially distanced and wear masks.
Most countries have reduced the number of scientists and staff they are sending to Antarctica, but hundreds of people still have been recently arriving as a part of routine operations.
Across the globe, more than 77 million cases of the virus have been reported across nearly 200 countries, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 1.7 million people have died.
Contributing: The Associated Press