Kiwi scientists to sail to Antarctica with COVID-19 testing machine

Despite COVID-19, Kiwi scientists are preparing to sail to Antarctica. 

It's one of a few expeditions to the continent since the outbreak of the pandemic - and they are taking a COVID-testing machine with them. 

NIWA staff loaded equipment and boarded their ship bound for Antarctica for the first time in two years. 

"We are incredibly fortunate that we are being allowed to go," says chief scientist Richard O'Driscoll.

Fortunate because COVID-19 forced many land-based research projects on the southernmost continent to be cancelled.

"Because we are on a ship and we are not going to be landing everywhere we will be in our own little bubble."

That bubble consists of 20 scientists, 19 crew and one COVID-19 testing machine. 

"There's a doctor on board. That doctor has had provisional training in using that machine and so if we get a flu on board we will be able to diagnose whether it's a flu or COVID," says manager of marine resources Rob Christie.  

COVID-19 reached Antarctica last month with 36 cases reported at a research base on the Peninsula. 

In the unlikely event that the crew has to carry out a rescue they could become exposed to the virus.

"The only compromise potentially is if we have to go to a rescue situation and have to pull people from outside of our bubble aboard the vessel," says ice pilot Evan Solly.  

With the ship due to set sail on Monday the crew aren't feeling too worried about COVID-19. They say the trip is necessary to collect critical information about the impact of climate change on life in the Ross Sea. NIWA says it's an ocean environment that's already diminishing. 

But there will also be other benefits. 

"The view out the window is different everyday," says O'Driscoll. 

A view that's rarer than ever thanks to COVID-19.