Belgian station in Antarctica hit by COVID-19 infections
Although Project Manager Joseph Cheek said the situation was “not dramatic,” at least 16 of the 25 workers at Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth polar station have tested positive for COVID-19 and the whole staff will remain isolated until Jan. 12, it was reported.
Cases of SARS-CoV-2 were first detected Dec. 14, but it has not significantly affected our work at the station in general, Cheek claimed.
Symptoms of those affected are so far mild. The whole crew is fully vaccinated, which is a requirement prior to arrival, when they also undergo a PCR test.
While it has been inconvenient to have to quarantine certain staff members who contracted the virus, it has not significantly affected our work at the station in general, Cheek was quoted by the BBC as saying.
He also added the whole crew had been offered the opportunity to depart on a scheduled flight Jan. 12, but all of them ”decided to stay and continue with their work.”
According to Belgian media, the first positive case was registered on December 14 in a member of a team which had arrived a week before and whose isolation was ordered without hesitation. However, after testing the rest of the crew two other members were infected as well.
The trio was evacuated Dec. 23, but it proved isufficient as nearly two-thirds of the staff became infected in the following days.
Faced with this reality, the Strategic Council of the Polar Secretariat decided to keep the staff at the scientific station (unless the health situation deteriorated) and banned any new arrivals or departures until at least Jan. 12.
Those infected are monitored by two emergency physicians and the place has the necessary equipment for both treatment and analysis of PCR tests.
In addition, the current International Polar Foundation’s research season has been already cut short and two campaigns have been postponed, Soir mag reported. Scientists will need nevertheless a negative PCR test before being cleared to leave the station.