Evacuation of Antarctic cruise tourist because of Covid-19 | Polarjournal
Antarctica is the destination for many tourists even during the pandemic. They now have to expect changes in the itinerary to become even more likely than under normal conditions. Photo: Dr. Michael Wenger

There are currently more than 20 (expedition) cruise ships and several private yachts sailing between South America, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. With the help of strict Covid 19 protocols, implemented both in the airports, hotels and ports in Chile and Argentina, from where expedition trips to Antarctica depart, and by the various shipping companies on board the ships, great efforts are being made to keep the corona virus away. In most cases this seems to work well, but not in all.

The Chilean newspaper La Prensa Austral reported that two passengers on a luxury cruise ship tested positive for Covid-19 in November after the ship, with 156 passengers on board, had been en route to Antarctica for several days. An 82-year-old tourist who made the trip with four family members complained of Covid-19 related symptoms. For her and one other person, a PCR test performed on board confirmed infection with Covid-19, whereupon the entire family was isolated.

As the elderly lady’s health condition worsened, an evacuation was organized from King George Island, South Shetland Islands. The 82-year-old patient and her family were transported to Punta Arenas, Chile, on 23 November by a BAE aircraft operated by the Chilean airline DAP under strict hygiene protocols. According to La Prensa Austral, the woman was treated at a clinic in Punta Arenas after the evacuation, where she died due to the severity of the infection combined with several pre-existing conditions. The second infected person and the other family members have since returned to their home country after completing quarantine.

There are currently over 20 (expedition) cruise ships (blue symbols) sailing between South America and Antarctica. In addition, there are several private yachts visiting the white continent (pink symbols). Map: Screenshot Marine Traffic, December 7, 2021

According to social media, the family apparently traveled by private jet to Chile, where all members presented a negative PCR test as Radio Cooperativa reported. All other passengers traveled from Santiago, Chile in a “sanitary bubble” to the ship in Punta Arenas. Fortunately, there appeared to be no other positive cases on board among the other passengers, all of whom were required to be fully vaccinated – Chilean officials conducted PCR tests on all passengers after the ship returned to Punta Arenas, all of which came back negative, according to social media reports.

This incident again illustrates how difficult it is to exclude the virus, even when all precautions seem to have been taken.

No further information is available from the Chilean authorities at this stage. To protect personal rights, we do not mention the names of companies or persons.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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