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Antarctic researchers, staffers granted border closure exemption to isolate in Christchurch

International researchers and essential workers heading to Antarctica for summer have been granted an exemption from New Zealand's border closures so they can make it to the ice.

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Scientists from around the world are preparing for a seasonal shift change on the continent. Source: 1 NEWS

Christchurch is known as an 'Antarctic gateway city', meaning travellers from multiple countries including the US, South Korea and Australia head to the continent from the city.

Today it was confirmed they'll be able to head through as usual this year, despite the border closures, with the first arrivals expected tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Antarctica NZ is bringing in isolation requirements before travel to keep the continent free of Covid-19.

Most research stations, including New Zealand-operated Scott Base, are running reduced staff this summer as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of the workers travelling down will be relieving crew who spent the winter on the freezing continent, while others are carrying out critical research.

"Ōtautahi Christchurch is one of five Antarctic Gateway cities in the world, and we are pleased to help facilitate this essential travel for our friends from the international Antarctic community," says David Kennedy, head of the Christchurch Antarctic office.

"This will not only support our city’s combined economic recovery efforts; it will also assist our Antarctic partners with critical missions."

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Antarctica is the only continent free of the virus, and the new travel limits are designed to keep it that way. Source: 1 NEWS

He estimates the international Antarctic programmes coming through New Zealand contribute nearly $150 million a year to the economy, the majority in Canterbury.

As a whole, the Antarctic sector contributes around half a billion dollars each year to the national economy, he says.

"The international Antarctic community, within which our city plays an important role, shares a common goal of supporting and promoting scientific research in Antarctica, and we are committed to treating our Antarctic partners with kindness and aroha."

ICE-OLATION BEFORE TRAVEL

Before they're allowed to head to Antarctica, the New Zealanders travelling to the continent will be made to isolate for 14 days and return two negative Covid-19 tests ahead of travel.

Antarctica NZ's Simon Trotter says it's crucial to keep the isolated continent free of Covid-19.

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Their facilities will be separate from the Government's managed isolation and quarantine facilities, Mr Trotter says, and the cost will be covered by Antarctica NZ.

"We will not be impacting space for any Kiwis returning home."

New Zealand has slashed its Antarctica programme for next summer, reduced from around 350 people to just 100.

The Kiwis' first flight south will be in October, according to Antarctica NZ.