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Covid outbreak in Antarctica, 9 unvaccinated staff evacuated

Covid outbreak in Antarctica, 9 unvaccinated staff evacuated

An outbreak of Covid-19 in the Argentinian 'La Esperanza' research base in Antarctica has infected almost 24 scientists and staff and necessitated the evacuation of 9 unvaccinated Covid-19 patients back to Buenos Aires due to safety concerns.

The 9 staff who were unvaccinated had not yet gotten the jab as they were waiting to fly back to Argentina for the process. Some had hesitated due to fears of side-effects in the extreme conditions and severely isolated nature of Antarctica. They had been in Antarctica since before the vaccination campaign began.

The remaining 15 Covid-positive staff were remaining at the base and we're asymptomatic, Patricia Ortuzar of the government's National Directorate of the Antarctic told AFP. Situation at the base is under control and all other staff are vaccinated, he added.

All other Argentina bases remain Covid-free, Ortuzar said.

The La Esperanza base, built in 1952 in the extreme northwest of Antarctica, is one of 13 belonging to Argentina -- six of them permanent. The first outbreak of Covid-19 in Antarctica was reported from a Chilean base in December 2020. According to reports, the outbreak was likely started by a new arrival who brought in the virus.

To prevent infection at its Antarctic outposts, Argentina has isolated and tested some 300 scientists and military personnel since December aboard an icebreaker which is currently bringing them back to Antarctica.

The South American country of 45 million people has registered more than 7.4 million infections since March 2020, and 118,000 deaths.

Antarctica had nine positive Covid-19 cases in December at the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station, stemming from a December 9 flight from Cape Town, South Africa, leading to speculation that the highly-infectious Omicron variant has already reached the continent.

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