Antarctica reports first COVID-19 cases

Three dozen people at a Chilean army base in Antarctica have reportedly tested positive for the novel coronavirus, marking the first time a case has been recorded on the continent.

Base General Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme is one of 13 active Chilean army stations in Antarctica, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted.

Sky News reports that of the 36 who tested positive, 26 are members of the Chilean military while the rest are maintenance workers.

Though there are few people in Antarctica, the implications of the coronavirus diagnoses could be significant. The number of people in Antarctica fluctuates widely throughout the year depending on the season, Sky News notes, with around 1,000 in the winter and about 5,000 in the summer.

“The detection of cases of COVID-19 in Antarctica will impact upon a range of areas, from planning and logistics of human activity on the continent through to high-level decision-making back home,” Hanne Nielsen of the the University of Tasmania told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The presence of COVID-19 in Antarctica also has implications for local wildlife, with the threat of humans transmitting the virus to other species,” Nielsen added.

Chile’s government announced on Sunday that doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine could begin being administered as early as next week. The vaccine was reportedly approved by Chile’s health regulators last Wednesday.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the first doses would be limited to health care workers, as many governments have done, with the goal of sending out 20,000 doses by the end of the month.

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