Expeditioners will be required to adopt a robust COVID-19 self-protection approach prior to departure, to support and deliver the 2022-23 Australian Antarctic Program (AAP).

Predeparture expeditioner risk mitigations

It is a requirement that all 2022–23 AAP expeditioners be up to date with COVID-19 Vaccinations as per Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to be approved to travel south, unless medically exempt by the AAD Chief Medical Officer or AAD Director. The definition of ‘Up to date’ can be found on the ATAGI website.

International participants with differing primary and booster vaccine access and regimes should consult with the Polar Medicine Unit.

It is also recommended that you are up to date with an annual Influenza vaccine booster.

Please send official documentary evidence of your current COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations to polarmedscreening@aad.gov.au.

Enhanced prevention measures

The incubation period of the current COVID-19 Omicron variant (the time it takes from exposure to symptoms) is currently 2–8 days, with an average of approx. 4 days. Despite changes in Public Health isolation requirements, the period of infectiousness of the current Omicron variant has remained at up to 8–10 days.

The AAD Polar Medicine Unit recommends that to ensure the best chance of your deployment with the AAP, that you protect yourselves by following enhanced COVID-19 safe behaviours PDF covering both the maximum incubation period and the maximum period of infectiousness (at minimum 10 days), prior to your date of departure.

We also recommend COVID-19 safe behaviours throughout your onboarding and predeparture training period to prevent impact on your own health, your colleagues' health and your predeparture training requirements.

Where social distancing is not possible, including for prolonged indoor training or critical training, daily health declaration and RAT testing may be required at training venues.

COVID-19 symptoms

Please perform a Daily Health Check prior to attending work. If you have any symptoms, you must stay home, get tested through Public Health, advise your work supervisor, and the Polar Medicine Unit Hotline on 03 6232 3293.

If you are COVID-19 RAT/PCR Negative, you must remain at home or your accommodation until your symptoms have resolved. There are numerous other respiratory viruses circulating in our community, transmission of any of these viruses can impact other expeditioners and the Australian Antarctic Program in this critical operational period.

Mandatory COVID-19 PCR testing

Mandatory COVID-19 PCR testing will be performed at day 10, 6 and 2 prior to your scheduled departure to detect COVID-19 positive cases, ensure recovery and clearance and prevent infection transmission within the AAP. COVID-19 PCR testing will also be performed on day 2 and 5 post-departure, on stations or ships, to identify COVID-19 cases early, with the aim to minimise transmission.

For AAD Employed Expeditioners:

  • You will be required to be in Tasmania, at least 10 days prior to your departure south to undertake the required COVID-19 PCR testing

For Non-AAD Employed Expeditioners:

  • You will be required to be in Tasmania at least 3 days prior to your departure south, to conduct at minimum, the day 2 prior to departure COVID-19 PCR testing.
  • Earlier arrival in Tasmania may reduce your risk of potential exposure during high risk travel periods and may aid in meeting AAP clearance requirements if you contract COVID-19 in the pre-departure period.

The AAD Polar Medicine Unit (PMU) will coordinate COVID-19 PCR screening during the immediate pre-departure periods.

  • For those in Tasmania – this will be undertaken without cost, usually with referral to Sonic Health Plus providers – you will be contacted to be advised of testing logistics.
  • For those NOT in Tasmania – PMU will provide referrals for you to obtain COVID-19 PCR tests interstate. These are to be performed at a local provider of your choice, initially at your own cost to be paid at the time of service. You can subsequently seek reimbursement from your employer or project.
  • For those overseas – please arrange your own COVID-19 PCR testing at a local provider. These tests will also initially be at your own cost, you can subsequently seek reimbursement from your employer or project.

Please email COVID-19 PCR test results to polarmedscreening@aad.gov.au if performed outside of Tasmania. Any testing organised through Sonic Health Hobart will be directly forwarded to the Polar Medicine Unit.

Management of COVID-19 positive cases

All COVID-19 positive cases are required to register their case and isolate following current Public Health Orders. They must inform their supervisor, who will complete and submit the AAD COVID-19 notification form Word, and also advise the Polar Medicine Unit on +61 3 6232 3293.

Support can be provided through the Tasmanian Public Health COVID@Home program and additionally through the Polar Medicine Unit, which is accessible 24/7 on 03 6232 3293.

As the period of infectiousness is potentially longer than the current isolation period, we recommend that after conclusion of the Public Health isolation period and for the remainder of the 10-day post diagnosis period, that you work from home or remotely where possible.

If you are required to attend critical work/mandatory training, we advise that you seek approval from your supervisor, wear a N95 mask and perform increased hand hygiene, and minimise your contact to prevent COVID-19 transmission to others.

Within the 10-day predeparture period and after departure, isolation of COVID-19 positive cases will require PMU RAT/PCR testing clearance to leave isolation. Testing will commence on day 7 of illness, and will be performed daily until “cleared from infectiousness”. This will be coordinated through the Polar Medicine Unit. Given the infectious period is potentially up to 10 days, late case detection prior to scheduled departure may impact or defer your travel south.

Your continued medical fitness to participate in the AAP this season may be impacted to varying degrees by unresolved COVID-19 complications, or the increasing risk posed by repeated COVID-19 infection (e.g. second or third infections) and prolonged symptoms of Long COVID-19.

As with any intercurrent illness or injury, COVID-19 positive cases will require PMU medical review and assessment to ensure that they remain Medically Fit for deployment for the 2022–23 AAP Season.

COVID-19 close contacts

All COVID-19 Close Contacts will need to follow Public Health Orders regarding isolation requirements.

They must inform their supervisor, who will complete and submit the AAD COVID-19 notification form Word, and also advise the Polar Medicine Unit on +61 3 6232 3293.

Additional COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests can be requested through the Tasmanian Government COVID-19 website.

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact your AAD station or ship doctor via usual contacts or PMU Hotline +61 (0)3 6232 3293 or polarmedscreening@aad.gov.au