The first wave of expeditioners heading south for this year’s Australian Antarctic summer season are safely in isolation in Hobart, to prevent any potential exposure to COVID-19.

Thirty-three expeditioners are due to travel from Hobart to Casey research station on the first two flights of the season, commencing on 7 November, subject to weather.

Director of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), Mr Kim Ellis, said it is imperative that COVID-19 does not travel with them.

“Our stringent planning for the 2020–21 summer season is focussed on preventing the introduction of COVID-19 to Antarctica and keeping people safe.”

“On top of any government quarantine requirements when entering Tasmania, all our expeditioners will have a compulsory isolation period of two weeks in Hobart immediately before going south,” Mr Ellis said.

“This isolation requirement applies to all expeditioners whether they come from interstate or are already in Tasmania.”

Expeditioners will be COVID-tested three times before heading south, and for their own safety will wear masks and gloves after leaving the hotel and during transport to the airport.

The air crew will also be in isolation prior to travel.

“The safety of our expeditioners living and working at Casey, Davis, Mawson and Macquarie Island research stations — and our staff in Tasmania — is top priority,” he said.

The AAD’s safety protocols have been reviewed by state and national medical authorities and are informed by internationally agreed guidelines for Antarctic nations.

Acting Human Resources Manager, Maree Riley, said expeditioners are being given a range of support during their two-week stay at The Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel immediately prior to their flight to Antarctica.

“A period of personal isolation can be challenging, but we’re doing our best to make this experience as positive as possible, by providing care packages and access to exercise equipment,” Ms Riley said.

“In their rooms, expeditioners will be busy doing pre-departure training, but instead of the usual face-to-face sessions, training will be conducted online with computer equipment provided by the AAD.”

“This year’s training includes COVID-safe practices and procedures.”

Activities for this summer season have been scaled back to focus on changing over teams and resupplying stations, with around half of the usual 500 people travelling south.

There will be no major construction activities on Australian stations and science projects in Antarctica will be limited to automated data collection and wildlife monitoring.

Australian Antarctic 2020-21 summer season – at a glance:

  • 260 expeditioners
  • 7 A319 flights – Hobart to Wilkins Aerodrome, Nov 2020-Mar 2021
  • 3 voyages on MPV Everest
    • Hobart to Casey – late Dec 2020
    • Hobart to Davis and Mawson – late Jan 2021
    • Hobart to Macquarie Island – late Mar 2021
  • 19 science projects – for example:
    • ecological monitoring of Antarctic-breeding seabirds
    • atmospheric monitoring for weather and climate modelling
    • sea ice monitoring