Antarctica New Zealand has announced a massive cutback to its science programme for the coming season, keeping dozens of scientists at home as a precaution against Covid-19 spreading to Scott Base.
The Government agency dropped 23 of its 36 planned projects -more than 60 per cent - leaving just a few core teams to head to the ice.
Only those involved in long-term science monitoring, essential operational activity and maintenance can return, in an effort to keep Antarctica the only continent untouched by the virus.
Chief executive Sarah Williamson described the travel limits and a strict managed isolation plan as a “key mechanism” to protect the frozen continent.
“Antarctica New Zealand is committed to maintaining and enhancing the quality of New Zealand’s Antarctic scientific research. However, current circumstances dictate that our ability to support science is extremely limited this season,” she says.
Their operations general manager, Simon Trotter, describes it as a difficult decision.
“We acknowledge the impact this Covid-19 response will have on research this season, but these are unprecedented times,” he says.
“Our focus is to keep Antarctica free from the virus, and the best way to do that is minimise its opportunity to get onto the continent.”
The agency says it will support “long-term science monitoring programmes in the vicinity of Scott Base” as well as essential maintenance and priority engineering projects. It will also allow critical tasks as part of the upcoming Scott Base redevelopment.
They say other national Antarctic programmes have also indicated they face “significant operational challenges” will likely follow a similar approach.