(CNN) – While the whole world continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, one continent has managed to be completely free of infection.
Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, is now considered the “safest place on earth,” with no confirmed cases at all.
This region has a close relationship with Covid-19 when the plague hit the last cruise ships of the season, but the virus did not reach the frozen coast. And, because it’s currently down to winter, when it’s really cut off, it has to stay that way for now.
Although there are no native populations here – unless you count many penguins, whales, seals and sea eagles – around 5,000 people, mostly scientists and researchers, currently live around 80 bases.
The safest place on Earth?
Antarctica is the only continent in the world that is still free of coronavirus.
“I really don’t think there is anyone here right now who is not grateful to be here, and safe,” he told CNN Travel via email.
“Some people are ready to go home. To help their loved ones, and to be used in other ways so far in history.
“But we all really appreciate living in a place where this disease (and all the health and lifestyle implications) don’t exist.”
“I read everything I could about the dynamics of this situation,” added Nelson, who has worked on the continent during the winter and summer since 2007.
“I feel like it’s my duty as a human being to witness what’s happening in the world.”
The 29-year-old player, originally from Scotland, works as a field guide, providing assistance to scientific colleagues who conduct research and ensure all fieldwork and travel are carried out safely.
While he also continued to oversee the crisis from the start, being so far removed meant he was unaware of his seriousness for a while.
“I remember the report that came out of China in early January,” said Taylor, who arrived in Antarctica about six months ago.
“Then the first few British cases, and thinking that this was something small and far away, it would not affect me.
“I realized gradually, as it spread and grew to become famous in the media.”
Impact of tourism
An estimated 78,500 tourists are estimated to be in Antarctica during the 2019 to 2020 season.
Alexey Kudenko / Sputnik / AP
While Taylor, who had moved between Halley VI Research Station and Rothera during his time in the southernmost continent, was concerned about the situation and worried about his family, especially his grandmother, he said it was hard to feel connected to what happened at certain times.
“It’s like being on the moon and looking down,” he added. “We can see what’s happening, but it’s still far away.”
Tourism has grown rapidly in Antarctica in recent years, with Arctic voyages becoming increasingly popular.
Around 78,500 tourists are expected during the 2019 season to 2020 – the Antarctic season runs from November to the end of March.
Nelson, who often coordinates visits to Palmer Station, said the research station welcomed thousands of people last year, but the number has declined this season due to the crisis.
“Some ships stop by to tour the station, and we also travel to larger ships to give lectures and conduct educational outreach,” he explained.
“At the end of January, when we watched all this happen, we stopped receiving visits and traveled to large ships, so there were fewer visitors to Palmer Station this summer.”
It is difficult to say what impact the absence of visitors can, if any, on the Antarctic tourism industry in the long run.
The number of visitors arriving here is kept relatively low to protect the original environment of the white continent.
IAATO tour operators are not allowed to land ships with more than 500 passengers, and all coordinate with each other to ensure there is only one ship at the landing site at a certain time.
According to Nelson, there were fewer visitors to Palmer Station this summer because of a pandemic.
Although it is still unclear how things will go in the coming months, they are at Palmer Station, along with bases such as the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, where the number of visitors is much higher, still working hard, doing everything possible to ensure things in place for next season.
While in Rothera, there were no tourists, except occasional cruise ships or cruise ships, so everything remained with the same number of heads.
However, Taylor, who helps maintain equipment at the base and generally keeps facilities tidy, noted the process of transporting personnel to homes has changed significantly.
The ship will leave around next week, and once that happens, he and the rest of the team at Rothera will be alone for about five months, with no personnel coming or going.
Nelson, who divided his time between the Midwest and San Francisco while in the US, previously worked at McMurdo Station, and the South Pole station, before moving to Palmer Station, which currently has a population of only 20 people.
He overcame this by adopting many of the same techniques as those outside Antarctica currently experimenting with when in quarantine.
“I am trying to find ways to entertain myself with personal projects,” he said. “And I also remember that time in my own head is a luxury.”
However, Nelson also happened to be trapped in a place surrounded by extraordinary wildlife and alluring natural beauty.
“The point is, this part of Antarctica is beautiful,” he said. “And it’s not difficult at all to get used to, and thrive in this beautiful place.”
The southernmost continent is now considered the “safest place in the world.”
However, he admitted feeling a strong sense of guilt for being so far from the closest and dearest during a critical period in history.
“It’s very strange to be physically at the edge of the world, while, at least at first, some people are afraid we will really see the end of the real world (or at least the end of the world as we know it,),” he explained.
“Sometimes I feel disconnected, and feel guilty that I’m not at home for – what, please? Simultaneously face the challenges others have?
“We know here that it will do no good for anyone, but it is easy to feel guilty.”
After committing to spending 18 months on an unauthorized vacation and being separated from his family and friends, Taylor was confused by the idea that he effectively had greater privileges than they currently do.
“To find ourselves in a situation where we have more freedom than if we remain at home is difficult to process,” he said.
“Life and work here are inextricably linked. We are extremely fortunate to be able to continue our lives and work.”
Life after coronavirus
Scientists and researchers currently based here will return to very different realities once they leave.
Taylor will depart in April 2021, but he must wait to see the “new state of play” before making strong plans for his return to England.
“They say spending a season in Antarctica changes you,” he said. “But I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the world might change more now than we do.”
“We will continue for the most part as if the coronavirus did not happen. We have a fitness center, music room, library, cinema … all the things we took for granted beforehand, which people at home would miss.”
This sentiment was shared by Nelson, who is scheduled to leave in early April, but has extended this “until the winter relief crew arrives.”
When he, Taylor and the others finally return home, they will be welcomed by a very different world. A new way of life that they only watched from afar.
The seemingly simple things they enjoy here might be distant memories.
“Sometimes I’m very aware of being an artifact,” Nelson said. “An echo. Still in the headroom of existence that has gone through history.
“We can still socialize at will, without fear, give high fives and hugs as we like, sit close together. We don’t have to react in fear if someone coughs.
“I’m very grateful for that, and I’m trying to really appreciate the last bit of time we have to live that life.”
“But it’s also sad to admit that these little things are extraordinary now.
“And when we leave here, we will leave all that behind. I am trying to force my brain to remember what it is – to instill this feeling of freedom and security – so I will not forget it later.”