© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Life on Antarctica: the only COVID-19 free continent

Antoinette Spicer
ScottBasePoppies2 JonnyHarrison

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing life as we know it. However, people in Antarctica are watching from the sidelines, not impacted by the sweeping changes in a continent seemingly a world away.

Antarctica remains the only continent without a confirmed case of COVID-19. Globally there are 3,189,017 confirmed cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Every year a team of Antarctica New Zealand staff members spend the winter at Scott Base. They carry out maintenance, prepare for the busy summer science season ahead and continue long-term science measurements.

An Antarctica NZ spokesperson said there were 11 New Zealand staff members at Scott Base - just one of 41 year-round Antarctic facilities.

Kiwis hoping for a return trip home are short of luck - Antarctica New Zealand has no personnel movements planned for a number of months, which is not unusual over winter.

A spokesperson said Antarctica NZ was assessing its approach for the end of the winter when personnel movements usually resume.

“Any protocol and procedures put in place in the future will be to protect Antarctica, Scott Base and our staff,” the spokesperson said.

Luke, a Winter Electrician at Scott Base, said similar to many people in New Zealand, the crew were “getting stuck into home maintenance”.

“The crew just finished carpeting two major parts of the base, and have now moved on to replacing lights in all our bedrooms,” he said.

"When the workday is over, many of us get out to see the incredible Aurora Australis light up the sky."

On Saturday morning, the team held a special ANZAC Day service on the ice at Scott Base - this year one of the only ANZAC gatherings in the world.

Scott Base winter leader Rory O’Connor said they found themselves in a unique position during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re free to assemble because Antarctica remains COVID-19 virus-free, so we have no restrictions on gatherings like back home.''

He said it was important to “reflect on the meaning of the day, the spirit of the ANZACs and what it means to us today, as well as acknowledging people around the world supporting the COVID-19 response”.

Antarctica New Zealand CEO Sarah Williamson said although a ceremony at Scott Base was held most years, this year seemed a little more special.

“Antarctica New Zealand has a close partnership with the New Zealand Defence Force who supports our operations on ice, so it is important to be able to remember the sacrifice made by members of our military all those years ago,” she said.

About 30 people from the American base nearby, McMurdo Station, also attended the service.