As we come to the end of the 2020/21 season, it’s timely to provide you with an update on our planning for the season ahead. A huge amount of planning and work is currently underway, and has been for months, this includes expert advice from a number of consultants on the safest and best way to run the 2021/22 season. Our goal is to support as much science as possible, whilst keeping everyone safe. It is our intention to make a formal decision, and let you know what the season ahead will look like as soon as possible.
All National Antarctic Programmes are working hard to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t reach the stations in Antarctica. As you will know, Antarctic stations are typically communal living areas that would accelerate the spread of COVID-19. Most stations are not medically equipped to deal with COVID-19 on continent, especially given the pace of spread and viral mutations. We are closely following information provided by our medical advisory team and have ongoing discussions with central government agencies regarding the regular revisions of vaccine regimes, new variants and border requirements. Along with the need to understand the medical advice, is our need to be in step with our partners in the Ross Sea region, in particular with the US Antarctic Programme given the Joint Logistics Pool.
We are cognisant of the reduction of science undertaken on ice for the 2020/21 season and that the collection of data is imperative. Planning for the 2021/22 annual programme is contingent upon air and sea lift capacity, a vaccination roll-out, managed isolation requirements and government support for the operational plan. While we are still in the process of gathering information to inform a decision, it is worth noting that there may be a possibility of pre-deployment isolation once again this season. Under the current regime, we envisage interactions and operational collaborations with other National Antarctic Programmes in the Ross Sea region to be limited due to COVID-19.
There has been interest in how the pre-deployment isolation process might be best funded. We are working through various scenarios, and acknowledge that paying for pre-deployment isolation is of financial concern for all parties traveling south to Antarctica. We will provide more information as soon as possible.
Thank you for bearing with us as we wrap our heads around balancing the imperatives of our purpose, maintaining an operational platform, continuing to enhance the quality of Antarctic science, and our goal to keep Antarctica COVID-19 free.
Ngā mihi nui