Since May of 2020, IAATO and its members have taken numerous steps to determine if a 2020/21 Antarctic season is feasible in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. These steps, guided by IAATO’s mission for safe and environmentally responsible travel, have included forming a COVID-19 Advisory Group, engaging with Gateway Ports regarding the possibilities for COVID-19 secure travel, monitoring scientific developments, seeking the advice of external experts and assessing operational procedures.
Global knowledge about COVID-19 has rapidly evolved since the emergence of the virus, requiring our members to constantly reassess and adapt operations. Despite the considerable collaborative work that has been undertaken, both within and outside of IAATO, to try to make a season work, over the past few months, many IAATO operators have decided to postpone travel for the upcoming Antarctica season due to the operational challenges the pandemic presents.
We are all encouraged by recent advancements, such as vaccines and rapid testing. However, we are still in the early stages of a recovery and it is clear, based on the best available knowledge today, that there is no risk-free way to continue business as usual in the short term.
The Antarctic community includes, not only IAATO and its members but national science programs, their supporting infrastructure, and Rescue Coordination Centers. This community, with its spirit of cooperation under the Antarctic Treaty System, has an overarching goal this season to keep COVID-19 out of Antarctica.
While COVID-19 has disrupted what we do, it has not disrupted who we are. IAATO’s mission is to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private sector travel to Antarctica. Therefore, considering the current status of COVID-19 globally and related challenges in secure travel, IAATO recommends any operators who are still considering operating in the 2020-2021 season to develop appropriate plans to support that mission.
IAATO members already operate under strict international rules and regulations and IAATO’s own bylaws and procedures. IAATO emphasizes that any operations in 2020/2021 season are to include strict COVID-19 management protocols, consistent with, or exceeding, the requirements adopted by the broader Antarctic community. These include specific mitigation measures implemented by Antarctic gateway authorities and should be done under the guidance of their respective competent authority.
COVID-19 is a global event that has affected many of us and our thoughts are with those who have felt the impact of the pandemic on a personal level.
What we do know now is that there is hope on the horizon. As more is understood about the virus, the means to protect ourselves and the environment from it become clearer. IAATO will become stronger and, with patience and perseverance, we will return to the region we love soon.