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Covid outbreak at Antarctic research station forces temporary travel ban

The National Science Foundation confirmed that 10% of the people at McMurdo Station have tested positive so far.
An aerial view of McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
McMurdo Station is at the southern tip of Antarctica's Ross Island. DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

A Covid outbreak at an American scientific research station in Antarctica has forced U.S. officials to temporarily halt all travel to the remote outpost.

The National Science Foundation, which operates McMurdo Station on the southern tip of Antarctica’s Ross Island, announced new measures over the weekend to help control the outbreak, which was first reported by NBC News on Friday.

“Consistent with the U.S. National Science Foundation’s commitment to balance research and operational needs while containing the spread of Covid cases in Antarctica, NSF is implementing a pause on all travel to the continent for the next two weeks, effective immediately, while we reassess the situation,” agency officials said in a statement released Saturday.

The temporary ban does not include essential travel for health and safety reasons, according to the agency. There is also a medical clinic located at the station to provide health care to its residents.

The agency confirmed that 10% of the research station’s population have tested positive for Covid during this recent outbreak. There are 885 people currently living and working at McMurdo Station.

The agency said it “highly recommends” KN-95 masks be worn at all times and will provide them to residents.

Though the station operates year-round, many scientists typically travel to McMurdo in November for field research during Antarctica’s summer season. It’s not yet clear what, if any, impact the outbreak could have on research and operations at the outpost.

Though most of the stricter Covid protocols from the past two years — including quarantines, charter flights and multiple PCR tests — have been relaxed, visitors to McMurdo must receive a bivalent booster shot and those who are at high risk for Covid are screened out.