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Antarctica, the one continent and not using a coronavirus, is making ready for the summer time rotation

Antarctica Flights offers 12-hour sightseeing tours across the continent that depart and land on the same day.

Courtesy of Antarctica Flights

The coronavirus has ravaged the world for nine months now. People around the world suffer from bans of varying degrees, company and school closings, and restrictions on group meetings.

Yet there is still one continent that has remained untouched by the virus: Antarctica, the coldest and most isolated part of the world.

"It is absolutely mental to think about it," said Karin Jansdotter, who has lived with five other people in a research station in Antarctica for almost a year and completely missed the pandemic.

"It's almost scary how lucky we are. Of all the people on the planet, we are the ones who don't experience it," she said.

Around 1,020 people lived in darkness and isolation at various base stations in Antarctica during the harsh winter months. Towards the end of winter, teams across Antarctica are preparing not only for summer research plans, but also for critical global efforts to ensure incoming colleagues for the summer rotation do not bring Covid-19 to the continent.

Even in non-pandemic circumstances, few people are allowed to enter and leave Antarctica, which, due to its remoteness and limited medical facilities, is unable to contain the spread of the disease.

For countries with bases on the continent, keeping Antarctica from getting its first case of coronavirus is a top priority.

Those who begin immigration in the summer will be quarantined and tested for two weeks upon arrival and in gateway cities like Cape Town, South Africa and Christchurch, New Zealand.

"Making sure Covid-19 doesn't get to the continent was our top priority," said the head of Antarctic science for the US program at the National Science Foundation. "Medical facilities are not designed for rapid expansion in the wards."

Antarctica Flights offers 12-hour sightseeing tours across the continent that depart and land on the same day.

Ixefra | Moment | Getty Images

Due to the weather conditions, traveling inside and outside the continent is extremely difficult in winter. Even in an emergency, it can take a plane a few weeks to move away from the continent to open an airfield.

"We are vulnerable when it comes to getting ourselves out of here," said Jansdotter, who lives at the Norwegian troll research base in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. She said she was worried about the safety of her parents living in Sweden during the dark winter months.

"In the middle of winter there are moments when I was worried and asked them where they had been, whether they met people, whether they were careful," said Jansdotter. "I can't come home if something happens."

Sometimes I feel guilty for being in this bubble and watching everything from the outside.

Karin Jansdotter

Head chef at Troll's Norwegian research base in Antarctica

The Antarctic National Program Managers Council, made up of 30 countries, has worked to reduce the risk of infection on the continent, including reducing team size and limiting the number of people at stations.

"There was a strong international agreement that everyone would do everything possible to prevent transmission," said Isern. "No station would be able to handle an outbreak if that happened."

For example, the US is sending about a third of its typical staff this summer, while other programs will not send scientists out on the ice this year.

While some research projects have been suspended, Isern said that investing in automated research over the past decade to reduce the ecological footprint of people on the continent has helped teams collect weather data remotely.

Base camp at Davis Station in Antarctica.

Rachael Robertson

Scientific research in Antarctica is vital in the face of climate change. Temperatures on the Antarctic continent have risen nearly 3 degrees Celsius in the last five decades, and about 87% of the glaciers along the west coast have receded due to climate change, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

"We're seeing the changes," said Ole Arve Misund, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. "In summer the temperatures are higher than in previous years, we see water flowing on the ice. We see a warmer climate, which affects the environment in Antarctica."

The South Pole is not immune either. The South Pole is located on the Antarctic plateau, the coldest region on earth with temperatures between -60 degrees Celsius in winter and -20 degrees Celsius in summer. It is one of those places that fasting is warming in the world. The air temperatures there have risen more than three times as fast as the global average since the mid-1990s.

Antarctica was once only open to explorers and researchers, but the tourism industry has grown in recent years as Arctic cruises have become more popular and accessible to people around the world.

Visitor tours to stations on the continent are being canceled due to the pandemic, although it is unclear which cruise ships will be sailing to the continent from different countries this summer.

In April, a cruise ship was evacuated towards Antarctica and South Georgia after more than half of the passengers tested positive for Covid-19. Antarctica has been under pressure from increasing human activity, the effects of climate change, and commercial fishing, among other things.

Jansdotter, who is expected to stay in Antarctica for another six months, said she had learned to like to live in isolation, deal with few resources, and appreciate the important people in her life.

"I don't want to leave this behind. I love it here," she said. "It has to be extremely difficult for people sitting at home. Sometimes I feel guilty for being in this bubble and watching everything from the outside."

Most people can only explore Antarctica, which lacks hotels and the ins and outs of commercial tourism, on a cruise.

Courtesy Scenic

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