Can there be life in Antarctica?

Antarctica is the last corona-free continent. Researchers want it to stay that way

Most Antarctic bases are more on the extensive coastline than inland like Concordia, but even these are difficult to get to. Scientists arrive by planes and ships so often held up by extreme weather that the United States' Antarctic Program has a section in its guide called “Be Patient”.

This year, patience will not be enough. "For all nations that work in Antarctica, the main goal is to keep the virus away from the ice," says Christine Wesche, the logistics coordinator of the German Antarctic program. But how exactly this goal is to be achieved has to be constantly reconsidered.

The Council of Heads of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) and its 30 members are coordinating a substantial downsizing. All programs will reduce their teams - Australia and Germany by 50 percent, New Zealand by 66 percent. The United States has not disclosed its adjusted team size, but recent press releases have "limited" the number of people it can deploy without safety concerns.

Small teams, strict controls

By downsizing the teams, the programs are better able to maintain a strict quarantine and testing regime, as testing can be costly and time-consuming. The number of people on the wards also helps reduce the number of people exposed to the virus if an infection reaches the continent, for example through an incorrect test result.

A handful of cities in the southern hemisphere are crucial waypoints on the way to Antarctica. The German team usually flies over Cape Town in South Africa - a country that has reported more than half a million cases of coronavirus infections. Because of the uncertainty on international flights through this hotspot, the German team may have to use their supply ship instead Pole Star to travel.