Members of the American military have arrived in Christchurch ahead of their deployment to Antarctica.
A C-17 plane – from McChord Air Force Base in the State of Washington – landed at Christchurch Airport on Friday morning, before the 30 personnel were transported to one of the city’s five quarantine hotels.
Their two-week managed isolation has been funded by the United States Antarctic Program and their place within the facility has not come at the expense of returning New Zealanders, a government spokesman said.
The military staff will assist with logistical air support for the National Science Foundation and the United States Antarctic Program.
They will join the 450 American researchers and support personnel spread across the three stations at McMurdo, Palmer and South Pole.
Operations in Antarctica have been scaled back for the forthcoming 2020-21 season with only essential maintenance and long-term research projects being undertaken.
There have been no Covid-19 cases in Antarctica and great lengths are being taken to ensure the continent remains virus-free.
Travellers to Antarctica can only enter New Zealand after being granted an exemption from the current border restrictions.
Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said travellers to Antarctica would be “isolated in managed facilities”.
“Planning has ensured space has been allocated to prevent any pressure on the system.”
Activity in Antarctica typically runs from August to March, with more than 3000 members of international Antarctic science programmes passing through or based in Christchurch.
This season that number is expected to be about 800.
Most are part of the United States Antarctic Program but others include arrivals from the Italian and Korean programmes.
Simon Trotter, general manager of operations at Antarctica New Zealand, said all personnel would be tested for Covid-19 at least twice over the fortnight they were in isolation facilities to ensure the virus was not taken to Antarctica.
“We will be providing separate facilities to those established for Government-managed isolation and quarantine. We will not be impacting space for any Kiwis returning home,” he said.
Antarctica New Zealand will pay for the isolation of personnel deploying south with the organisation. These include scientists, Scott Base staff and contractors critical to base maintenance, and infrastructure support.
Over the course of a normal season, New Zealand’s Scott Base usually supports about 350 people. This year, there will be only 100.