One continent has not yet confirmed a case of the novel coronavirus. It’s a place of barren ice, where the all-consuming cold and darkness of winter is fast approaching.
Over the past few months, some 4,000 people from around the world have watched from Antarctica as the coronavirus pandemic, which began in Wuhan, China, swept around the globe, reaching all but its southernmost reaches.
“You’d better stay there, you’re safer there,” Alberto Della Rovere, leader of the 35th Italian expedition to Antarctica, said his colleagues at home told him via WhatsApp.
For now, they appear to be right. Even in normal times, only a limited number of people are allowed in and out of Antarctica, with medical workers screening for signs of influenza and other illnesses before arrival.
“Right now, this, Antarctica, is the safest place in the world,” Della Rovere said. “There are no outside contacts, and we’re far away from any settlement.”
On social media, residents of various Antarctic stations have acknowledged their strange status. “I think it is safe to say that McMurdo Station, Antarctica, had the largest St. Patrick’s Party in the world in 2020,” wrote one person stationed there.
A U.S. contractor at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station posted a photograph of many boxes of toilet paper. “Don’t worry about us,” he wrote.
People stationed in Antarctica might be unlikely to catch the virus, but they would be at great risk if they did. While most bases would be able to handle a single case of a serious respiratory infection, they would struggle to contain one that spreads as rapidly as the coronavirus. And there’s no way to guarantee that it won’t eventually spread to ends of the Earth.
“No continent is immune, including Antarctica,” said Jeff Ayton, chief medical officer at the Australian Antarctic Division.