The coronavirus has now spread to all seven continents with the first reported cases of COVID-19 in Antarctica.
Chile on Monday confirmed 36 infections at its Gen. Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme research base ― including 26 Chilean army personnel and 10 civilians working for a contracted maintenance company ― according to Chilean broadcaster 24 Horas.
The 36 people were evacuated to Punta Arenas, in southern Chile, and placed under isolation, the base said in a statement.
Three additional COVID-19 cases were discovered among crew members of the Sargento Aldea, a Chilean naval ship that visited the research base on Nov. 27 and returned to Chile on Dec. 10.
Gen. Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme is one of 13 research bases that Chile maintains in Antarctica, and is also a permanent base that’s active during both the summer and winter.
Antarctica, normally a temporary home to anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 scientists and research base staff depending on the season, was previously the only continent without reported COVID-19 cases.
The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs, an international group supporting scientific research in the world’s southernmost continent, said the coronavirus would be extremely deadly if allowed to spread unchecked in Antarctica’s extreme climate.
“A highly infectious novel virus with significant mortality and morbidity in the extreme and austere environment of Antarctica with limited sophistication of medical care and public health responses is High Risk with potential catastrophic consequences,” a COMNAP document seen by The Associated Press revealed in September.
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