In Antarctica, 'We Are Isolated Within Isolation'

Researchers are trying to keep continent virus-free
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2020 7:41 AM CDT
Even Antarctica Is Under Lockdown
This penguin appears to have mastered social distancing.   (AP Photo/Rodrigo Jana, File)

Antarctica is the only continent without confirmed coronavirus cases—and the hundreds of people spending the winter at research stations there want to keep it that way. Some 29 countries have a total of around 80 bases in Antarctica, but all intra-base visits have been called off amid fears the virus could spread rapidly in cramped living quarters. "A case of COVID-19 here could be disastrous. So we are taking lockdown measures, too. It feels like we are isolated within the isolation," Dr. Pradeep Tomar at India's Bharati base tells the BBC. "Prevention is much better than the cure." The population of Antarctica drops from around 5,000 to 1,000 during the southern winter months, when it is largely cut off from the rest of the world.

Any newcomers to Antarctica are now quarantined for 14 days. Tomar is on a yearlong mission to study the psychological impact of isolation, but he says he is now more worried about people back in India who—unlike researchers—have not been trained to deal with social isolation. "Friends have been telling me that they are surviving in a situation like ours, isolated and glued at home," says the doctor, who has been at the base since November and wonders what kind of world he will return to. Robert Taylor at Britain's Rothera Research Station tells CNN that he is worried about relatives back in Scotland, but he feels disconnected from the rest of the world. "It's like being on the moon and looking down," he says. "We can see what's going on, but it's a long way away." (More Antarctica stories.)

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