Remarkable 9000 mile Covid jab journey is a shot in the arm for Edinburgh Antarctic expert at the South Pole
Edinburgh man Matthew Phillips definitely made sure he was indoors when he rolled up his sleeve for his Covid jab – delivered to him at the South Pole.
The 39-year-old works as Winter Station Leader at the British Antarctic Survey’s remote Rothera Research Station, where temperatures can plunge as low as -34C.
Matthew was one of 23 team members who had the Astra Zeneca vaccine flown over 9000 miles to them by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. It is the furthest south the jabs have been administered.
Edinburgh-born Matthew said: “We’re the last Brits to get our Covid vaccine – but there was no way we’d have been rolling our sleeves up outside. We might just have got through 205 days of winter and into spring, but the temperature is still around -4C outdoors, so it’s still a bit chilly.
“This isn’t the easiest place in the world to be evacuated to a hospital if there’s an emergency so getting the Covid vaccine will help keep everyone safe over a busy summer.
“People say it’s easier to get someone off of the International Space Station than getting someone out of Antarctica during the winter because when the sea freezes the chances of getting a ship in are slim to none. We have a runway here at Rothera, but the winter weather and conditions make it extremely difficult to get a plane in and out.
“We want to do everything we can to keep the station population and the Antarctic Covid-free.”
Antarctica has been Covid-free since Chile was forced to evacuate staff from its base last December after 36 people tested positive. The UK’s delivery will help keep things that way after an epic 9000-mile journey which saw the medical supplies flown from RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, to Dakar, Senegal and on to the Falkland Islands. From there, a tiny Twin Otter plane performed the final leg and was the first aircraft to reach the Rothera research team for 205 days.
Matthew added: “I believe we are the final British Overseas territory to receive the vaccine. We must also represent the most complicated logistical challenge to get jabs in arms.”
Matthew has not been home since setting sail from the UK on November 4 last year – reaching the Rothera outpost on Christmas Eve. This was the sixth winter the former Edinburgh bar manager, who now lives in Fort William, has spent in Antarctica, having fallen in love with the world’s most southernly continent.
Matthew said: “I think it’s potentially the extremist environment on the planet. It’s not as dangerous as it used to be in the days of Scott and Amundsen – but there’s still a real
sense of adventure to it.
“The lowest temperature I’ve encountered in my time here at Rothera is -32C.”
But he said: “If you like wildlife and scenery, this place is almost unbeatable. I absolutely love it down here.”
Global Health minister Wendy Morton said: “The transport of vaccines to the ends of the earth shows our commitment to the people who live and work in the UK’s Overseas Territories.
“The Government has supported the territories with vaccines and medical equipment through the pandemic. It has been an enormous logistical effort, of which the UK can be proud.”