(NEW YORK) — A research station in Antarctica is battling a COVID-19 outbreak despite being located in one of the most remote corners of the world.
Since mid-December, 16 of the 25 workers at Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Polar Station have tested positive for the virus.
According to the French-language magazine Le Soir, the first positive COVID-19 case was confirmed on Dec. 14 in a worker who had traveled to Antarctica with a group via Belgium and South Africa.
Before arriving in South Africa, the workers were required to have a negative PCR test at least two hours prior to the flight. The employees then had to quarantine in South Africa for 10 days before taking another PCR test.
The group was again tested five days after arriving in Antarctica.
After the first infection was confirmed — seven days following arrival at the station — two more workers from the travel group tested positive.
The three patients were evacuated on Dec. 23, but the virus continued to spread throughout the station, according to Le Soir.
The workers had all been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one having received a booster shot.
All of the cases have been mild so far, Joseph Cheek, a project manager for the International Polar Foundation, which manages the outpost, told the BBC.
There are two emergency doctors on site with equipment necessary to treat patients if their symptoms become severe.
All of the scientists at the station were given the option to evacuate but they decided to stay to continue their research, according to Cheek.
“While it has been an inconvenience to have to quarantine certain members of the staff who caught the virus, it hasn’t significantly affected our work,” he said.
According to a virologist consulted by the Belgian Polar Secretariat — which manages administrative matters for the Princess Elisabeth station — it is likely that the workers were infected with the omicron variant, which makes up 99% of all COVID cases in South Africa, Le Soir reported.
All new arrivals to the Princess Elisabeth, which is the first zero emission polar station, are suspended until further notice.
The International Polar Foundation did not immediately reply to ABC News’ request for comment.
This is not the first time that a COVID-19 outbreak has been reported in Antarctica.
In December 2020, Chile announced that 36 cases of the virus had been confirmed at its Bernardo O’Higgins research station on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Despite Antarctica’s remote location, research and military stations have taken strict measures to prevent the spread COVID-19, including limiting the number of tourists and locking down bases.
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