US research station in Antarctica hit with Covid outbreak

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An American research station in Antarctica has been shut for inward travel following a Covid outbreak.

The National Science Foundation, which operates McMurdo Station on the southern tip of Antarctica’s Ross Island, has said that 98 positive cases were recorded since October. There are 885 people currently living at McMurdo Station.

It said that it is pausing all inward travel in the continent for the next two weeks as it reassesses the situation.

“Consistent with the US National Science Foundation’s commitment to balance research and operational needs while containing the spread of Covid cases in Antarctica, NSF is implementing a pause on all travel to the continent for the next two weeks, effective immediately, while we reassess the situation,” the agency in a statement released on Saturday said.

The agency said that the temporary ban does not include essential travel for health and safety reasons. There is a medical clinic available at the station to provide health care to its residents.

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The NSF said that “most have mild symptoms and are isolating in their rooms”. It has advised residents to spend five days in isolation before transiting to the south pole or deep field. It has recommended KN-95 masks be worn at all times.

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It is not the first time that Antarctica is registering Covid cases, though the latest report appears to be the largest.

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The first cases were registered in December 2020, with 36 people testing positive at Chile’s base. A year after that, 11 of the 30 people in Belgian research station Princess Elisabeth were infected, and in January 2022, 24 cases detected were detected Argentina’s Esperenza base.

It comes at a time when many scientists fly to the continent for two to three months of research  

This year marked also marked the first full season of Antarctic research after two years of COVID-19 disruption.

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