Expeditioners will be required to adopt a robust COVID-19 self-protection approach prior to departure, to support and deliver the 2023–24 Australian Antarctic Program (AAP).

Predeparture expeditioner risk mitigations

It is a requirement that all 2023–24 AAP participants (including expeditioners, ship/aircrew and external contractors), have had a COVID-19 booster or documented COVID-19 infection within 6 months (3 months preferred) of deployment, to be approved to travel south, unless medically exempt by the AAD Chief Medical Officer or AAD HOD/GM Ops. This requirement is an AAD Antarctic Service Medical requirement stipulated and assessed by the AAD Polar Medicine Unit.

International participants with differing primary and booster vaccine access and regimes will be reviewed by the Polar Medicine Unit on a case by case basis.

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 approximately 4 days. The period of infectiousness of the current Omicron variant is 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 prior to your 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.

COVID-19 symptoms

Please perform a Daily Health Check prior to attending work. If you have any symptoms, you must stay home, advise your work supervisor and the Polar Medicine Unit Hotline on 03 6232 3293, who can provide further guidance.

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

In order to minimise the chance of transmission of COVID-19 into Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic, mandatory COVID-19 PCR testing will be performed 2 days prior to departure for all AAP participants. COVID-19 PCR testing will also be performed on day 2 and 5 post-departure on ships only.

For AAP Participants:

  • 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.

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

This will be undertaken without cost, usually with referral to Sonic Health Plus providers – you will be contacted to be advised of testing logistics

Management of COVID-19 positive cases

All COVID-19 positive cases are required follow current State and Territory Public Health Orders and reporting requirements. They must inform the Polar Medicine unit on +61 3 6232 3293 and also their supervisor, who, if required, will complete and submit the AAD COVID-19 Notification form.

All suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases must remain at home when unwell with infectious symptoms. Once asymptomatic, if required to return to work, they must wear a N95 mask, perform increased hand hygiene, and minimise their contact hours to prevent transmission to others, for the 10-day period after symptom onset or diagnosis (whichever is former).

Medical fitness review for approval to travel south

COVID-19 and other respiratory infections affect individuals to varying degrees with both acute complications and prolonged symptoms (i.e. Long COVID). As with any intercurrent illness or injury, COVID-19 suspected and positive cases will require PMU medical review and assessment to ensure that they remain Medically Fit for deployment for the 2023–24 AAP Season and approved for travel South.

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

AAP COVID-19 vaccination requirement update – September 2023

In light of the recent September ATAGI recommendations, we want to clarify the impact of these guidelines on the AAP COVID-19 Plan for 2023–24 and its associated vaccination requirements.

The new ATAGI recommendations relate to a second COVID-19 booster in 2023.

Although we are guided by Public Health recommendations, the AAP COVID-19 policy is based on Occupational Health recommendations, operational requirements and risk mitigation strategies – as a consequence overall there is no change to the AAP COVID-19 Safety and Outbreak Management plan.

As the new ATAGI recommendations may cause potential challenges in accessing COVID-19 vaccinations due to eligibility or misinterpretation of the guidelines, the Polar Medicine Unit (PMU) will on request provide:

  • Letter of Support for Vaccination Providers describing the AAP Vaccination Requirements
  • COVID-19 vaccination clinic for AAP participants, if unable to obtain them elsewhere – we will provide further advice once these are available
  • Review of individual cases who have already received a COVID-19 booster or contracted COVID-19 in 2023 but outside of the 6-month prior to deployment window.

Please email the Polar Medicine Unit – polarmedscreening@aad.gov.au if you have any questions, require a vaccination support letter or vaccination, are seeking a medical exemption or request to have your case reviewed.