More than 400 foreign staff from International Antarctic Programs will spend two weeks in controlled solitary confinement in New Zealand before breaking out on the ice.
Christchurch is an important gateway to the continent and has long hosted Antarctic programs implemented by foreign countries.
Post-Covid, countries wishing to travel to Antarctica via Christchurch now have to obtain a border waiver and then remain in MIQ after arriving in New Zealand.
Rose King, co-chair of MIQ, said 204 people will arrive in Christchurch this month on charter flights to support a foreign Antarctic program or travel to the continent.
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Most of them came from the United States. Each Antarctic program will pay for their stay at MIQ.
King said decisions regarding the allocation of MIQ spaces were taken at the ministerial level.
What Scott’s Factory in New Zealand might look like in Antarctica once completed. (The video was released in May 2021)
There are no seats currently available on the booking site, which has appeared through the end of October. Vouchers for November and December have been pledged once the airline has confirmed and are expected to arrive by the end of the month.
Immigration Minister Chris Favoy declined to comment for this article.
Previously, the Christchurch Antarctic Office said Antarctic programs from Italy and Korea would bring an additional 230 people to Christchurch in October and November – 150 from Italy and 80 from Korea.
David Kennedy, head of the Christchurch Antarctic office, said he was still waiting for approval to hire 45 employees.
Those numbers are significantly reduced compared to the pre-Covid days, when more than 3,000 people could travel to Antarctica for a science season.
Christchurch has also supported Antarctic programs from countries such as France, China and Germany.
Kennedy said the feasibility of the Italian and Korean programs to continue to use Christchurch because their base remained “partly contingent” on pending MIQ approvals.
Programs looked at other “gateway” cities as post-Covid options, including Hobart in Australia, Ushuaia in Argentina and Cape Town in South Africa.
Programs used these cities to transport people, by sea or air, and supplies to Antarctic stations.
Kennedy said his office – part of the publicly owned and funded Christchurch Economic Development Agency, in Christchurch New Zealand – has helped the Italian and Korean programs waive borders and MIQ orders.
In a March 2021 report, Christchurch New Zealand said it had to lose these two programs “due to MIQ issues” and competition from other gateway cities.
Kennedy said both foreign programs have confirmed that they will continue to use Christchurch for this year’s science season if the necessary MIQ approvals are granted.
“We hope to have this confirmation soon.”
Kirsty Hutchinson, director of immigration at the Department for Business, Innovation and Employment, said she expects more people to travel through New Zealand to Antarctica after November.
“Christchurch is one of only five cities in Antarctica in the world,” he said.
“Providing gate services is a vital part of the city’s economic development strategy.”
Various estimates suggest that the Antarctic programs bring millions of financial benefits to Christchurch.
Hutchinson said the direct economic impact is estimated at $132 million annually for the city and $194 million for the whole of New Zealand.
A 2016 report completed by the University of Lincoln found that the total was about $100 million annually.