One of the most isolated places on the planet has been hit by a coronavirus outbreak—but all the cases detected at the Princess Elisabeth Polar Station in Antarctica have been mild and workers at the Belgian station are planning to stay put. At least 16 out of the 25 workers at the station have been infected over the last three weeks despite strict quarantine procedures, Sky News reports. Arrivals to the station have now been halted. Authorities say workers were required to quarantine in South Africa, one of the countries where the omicron variant was first detected, before traveling to Antarctica. The first COVID case at the station was found on Dec. 14 in a member of a team that had arrived a week earlier.
"The situation isn't dramatic," Joseph Cheek at the International Polar Foundation tells the BBC. "While it has been an inconvenience to have to quarantine certain members of the staff who caught the virus, it hasn't significantly affected our work at the station overall," says Cheek. He says all workers were offered the opportunity to leave on a Jan. 12 flight and they all chose to stay. Workers at the station, which opened in 2009, are fully vaccinated and there are two emergency doctors at the site. (Antarctica lost its status as the only COVID-free continent more than a year ago.)