Reduced international Antarctic season commences

A heavily scaled back international Antarctic season will commence this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods have confirmed.

“Antarctica is the only continent that is COVID-19 free,” Mr Peters said. “Throughout the global pandemic, essential operations and long-term science have continued at Antarctic stations, including at New Zealand’s Scott Base. The reduced Antarctic programmes will maintain essential operations and supply, critical support of key infrastructure and long-term scientific research activities only.”

The first US flight bringing personnel to support the Antarctic season will arrive in Christchurch on Friday (7 August) ahead of the first flight to Antarctica scheduled for 24 August.

“All international arrivals will pay for their own 14-day managed isolation and be tested twice for COVID-19 before leaving for the ice,” Megan Woods said. 

Travellers to Antarctica can only enter New Zealand after being granted an exemption from the current border restrictions, the criteria of which is based on the essential nature of their work, and agreements between Governments on cooperation in Antarctica.

“The safety of New Zealanders in mainland New Zealand and in Antarctica has been the primary consideration in planning for the arrivals,” Ms Woods said. “Travellers to Antarctica will be isolating in managed facilities, and planning has ensured space has been allocated to prevent any pressure on the system.” 

“Support to Antarctic stations through New Zealand is critical to the safety and well-being of people, including New Zealanders, in Antarctica, and to the continuation of important long-term science,” Mr Peters said.

“The Antarctic programmes have a shared commitment to keep Antarctica COVID-19 free. Close cooperation, in the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty System, is reflected in the shared logistics arrangements between Antarctic programmes.”

While in a typical season (running from August till March), more than 3,000 members of international Antarctic science programmes would normally pass through or be based in Christchurch, this season that number is expected to be about 800. The majority are part of the United States’ Antarctic Programme, with arrivals also supporting the New Zealand, Italy and Korea programmes.