The hubbub surrounding the COVID infections at the Chilean station Bernardo O’Higgins is not abating. Following the positive cases on the supply vessel Sargento Aldea and the 36 station members who tested positive, one person in the village of Villa Las Estrellas on King George Island now has been reported as COVID positive as well.
As announced by the head of the Health Department of the Magallanes region, Eduardo Castillo, the civilian in the locality was evacuated to Punta Arenas along with 8 close people and all were quarantined there. This is reported by the Associated Press news agency. The infection likely is related to the visit of the Chilean supply ship Sargento Aldea to the island between November 27 and December 10.
The village of Villa Las Estrellas is a real village on the island and part of the base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalvia, inhabited by 80 to 150 people, depending on the season. Besides a church, there is also a small hospital, a bank, a post office and mobile phone connection. The nearby airfield is used for station supply as well as for tourist activities. Direct flights to Punta Arenas are operated from here. The evacuation of the previous COVID-positive tested persons also took place from here. Since the airfield plays an important role logistically, several stations of other countries are also located in the immediate vicinity of the Chilean base. This includes the Russian station Bellinghausen and the Chinese station Great Wall.
In the meantime, further details about the outbreak and the situation of COVID cases in the Chilean stations have also become known. According to the Chilean Army’s V Division in a statement on December 17, on December 14, two members of the army who had arrived in Punta Arenas tested positive for the SARS CoV2 virus. Because the two had come from the supply ship Sargento Aldea and at the same time several people on the Chilean station had shown symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, the ship’s entire crew was quarantined in Talcahuano Harbor and retested for the virus. Three more cases were discovered. Then, on December 20, the military informed that the personnel of the Bernardo O’Higgins station had been evacuated to Punta Arenas and that the people had been quarantined. PCR tests carried out in Punta Arenas subsequently confirmed infection with the virus on December 21. According to the military on December 20, the station was completely disinfected and staffed with a replacement team. This had already gone through the isolation and hygiene measures and the station was fully operational again.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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