KIM ELLIS, Director, Australian Antarctic Division
Australian Antarctic stations are small enclosed units that have a very limited redundancy in areas such as medical support, engineering and technical support, and food and catering. If COVID-19 was to get into these Antarctic stations there’s a real risk that we actually couldn’t continue operations and may have to evacuate or close the station. So it’s imperative for us that we do everything we can to prevent COVID-19 to get into those stations.
The last six months have been a really challenging six months for the Antarctic Division. We had to implement new procedures that allowed us to completely quarantine our expeditioners going down there, to check them as they left, all of our cargo had to be checked. We implemented a no visitor program to prevent visitors actually going to the Antarctic to prevent the risk of spread, and we implemented social distancing for any of the crews delivering cargo, both aviation and shipping, we separated those from our expeditioners in Antarctica. We stopped a lot of the transit programs that were occurring through our stations.
I’m thrilled that we've been able to quarantine and protect these stations for the long isolated winter months. Our task going forward now is to plan and prepare for the resupply of these stations in the 2020–2021 summer season.
So even here in our office at Kingston, we've closed those to the public. These offices provide tele-medicine and tele-maintenance support to those stations. We have teams here in Kingston who can mobilise to support those immediately.
We must keep the teams here at Kingston healthy, to protect and preserve life in Antarctica.
The theme of this year’s ‘World Day for Safety and Health at Work’ is combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four small teams of expeditioners, totalling 89 people, that currently live at our Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations are safely isolated for the winter.
Our planning for the 2020–21 summer season continues to centre on the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the Australian Antarctic Program as it is deployed south.
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.