Testing to stay COVID safe, even for Antarctica

Scott Base Antartica

People living and working in Antarctica face difficult conditions every day, and one of the major risks is a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

“COVID-19 would have serious impacts for the staff and operations at Scott Base as people live and work in such close proximity to each other” says Martin Bendall, Special Projects Co-Ordinator at Awanui.

“The remoteness of Antarctica means limiting the spread of cases and, if it was necessary to deliver more treatments to the base, it could quickly become a serious challenge.”

Martin says keeping New Zealanders, and indeed everyone “”on the ice”” safe led to the Awanui network begin working with Antarctica New Zealand in 2021 to provide pre-departure PCR saliva testing for those heading south.

“Saliva testing is a quick, cost effective way to test for COVID-19. By working with Antarctica New Zealand, Awanui has made testing for those heading south easy and accessible” says Martin.

“Overall, there will be around 33 flights leaving Christchurch this season and we aim to have tested around 200 people as part of the ongoing programme.”

Martin says everyone who is traveling takes their test prior to flying and has their result back within 24 hours. If someone does test positive, then they know to isolate.

“We cannot relax our vigilance with testing, especially with the current wave of COVID-19 cases, or should any new variants emerge across the country.”

“However, the pre-departure saliva testing means we are reducing the chance of the virus getting to Antarctica and provides an extra layer of protection for both travellers and the teams based there.”

“We can identify positive results as early as possible, giving people confidence for safe travel and ensuring they do not put others at risk. It helps to protect Scott Base from COVID-19.”

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