The first US flight into Antarctica following months of winter darkness yesterday arrived with crews taking extra precautions to keep out COVID-19.
Antarctica is the only continent without the virus, and there is a global effort to make sure incoming scientists and workers do not bring it with them.
The US Air Force flight yesterday left from the gateway city of Christchurch, New Zealand, carrying 106 passengers and crew, said Tony German, the US Antarctic Program’s representative in New Zealand.
The new arrivals are to prepare for the summer and swap out with skeleton crews who have spent the southern hemisphere winter in Antarctica, he said.
The flight was delayed for three weeks by big storms, resulting in an extended six-week quarantine for those aboard.
The crews were first isolated in San Francisco for four days and spent another five weeks isolated in New Zealand, undergoing several virus tests along the way, German said.
Upon their arrival at McMurdo Station, the facility entered Code Yellow, meaning everybody must wear masks for two weeks, he added.
“We are being meticulous to ensure nothing happens,” German said.
If the virus was to break out at the station, he said, they have protocols in place to test and isolate anybody who is infected.
Still, the flight delays over the past few weeks underscore how difficult it can be to quickly evacuate people from Antarctica who are suffering severe medical problems.
It took more than a week for winter crews at McMurdo, the main US station on Antarctica, to dig out from the storms and clear the runway for the flight to proceed, German said.
The Boeing C-17 Globemaster that landed yesterday afternoon was the first US flight to arrive on the continent since early May.
Unusual teamwork among the US, China, Russia and other countries took place this year to ensure they keep the virus out, officials said.
All are planning reduced numbers at their stations. The number of people at McMurdo is to peak at 450 this summer, about one-third the usual.
Some planned research and construction would also be delayed.
The main goals are to keep the facilities running and prepare for next year’s winter-over, while trying to do some science along the way, German said.
“The show must go on,” he said.
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