Around 4,5 million new cases of coronavirus were recorded in the world in 196 countries and regions, but a single continent is still immune from it thanks to strict surveillance measures … and some luck, Antarctica.
And after the disease became a global pandemic, this remote, frozen region moved further away from the world, with the prevention of tourist trips and any contact between international rules between them as well as the adoption of very strict measures.
“We are isolated and this situation adds to the natural isolation we know mainly,” said Captain Alejandro Valenciolo, commander of the frigate and naval governor of the Chilean part of this continent, in a telephone conversation with AFP.
Living in Antarctica usually requires great coordination and cooperation between the teams of about 40 permanent bases and scientific expeditions on the peninsula and in the surrounding islands.
Ten members of the Chilean navy reside on Escudero base in the Gulf of Veldes on the southern Shetland Islands, which is considered an entry point to the frozen continent.
The region also has bases for the Chilean Air Force and the General Directorate of Civil Aviation. Nearby are several bases of other countries such as Russia, Uruguay, South Korea and China.
Before the pandemic, all of these rules were in continuous interaction for the purpose of loading and unloading supplies, for example, as well as more joyful matters such as sports competitions and occasions such as birthdays, but the fear of transmission has put an end to any physical communication to reduce risks.
Antarctica was also fortunate in its fight against the epidemic. The health crisis began at a time when the tourist season was drawing to a close and attracted about 50,000 visitors annually.
The last cruise ship arrived in Feldes Bay on March 3, at a time when Chile announced the first injury recorded on its soil.
As of April, weather conditions prevent any process of arrival or departure from this continent, which plunges the staff of the permanent bases into compulsory isolation, and the pandemic has increased the procedures of auditing and control.
“Every cargo was sterilized before it was brought in, and communication with the ship that transported the cargo remains at a minimum,” Valencuela said. “The ship’s crew remains on board and we do not establish any direct contact with it.”
At President Eduardo Frei Montalva’s rule, health measures were strengthened, too. Only four people could be present at the base canteen while sports activities were suspended.
Since March 20, national and international air operations at the Marsh Amphitheater have become very limited. “Only exceptional logistical or humanitarian support operations are allowed,” Al Qaeda commander Alejandro Silva told AFP.
As for Uruguay’s Artigas base, it has evacuated ten of its crew since the start of the crisis, leaving only nine in place.
“The next crew change should take place in the first half of December, which means that people who have stayed here will spend all winter (from June to September) on the spot,” says Admiral Manuel Burgos, president of the Uruguayan Antarctic Institute.