Rapid virus testing on new Aust icebreaker

Australia's new icebreaker RSV Nuyina will have rapid coronavirus testing onboard.
Australia's new icebreaker RSV Nuyina will have rapid coronavirus testing onboard.

Expeditioners on Australia's new $529 million Antarctic icebreaker will have access to rapid coronavirus testing that delivers a result in less than an hour.

RSV Nuyina is en route to its Hobart base after leaving a shipyard in the Netherlands earlier this month.

State-of-the art medical facilities are being set up by two doctors on the trip south, ahead of an expected maiden voyage to the frozen continent this summer.

One of those is Mal Vernon, who sailed on Nuyina's smaller predecessor the Aurora Australis and spent seven seasons at Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations.

"At full capacity, RSV Nuyina will carry a total of 149 people on long voyages for months on end in some of the most extreme and unforgiving environments on Earth," Dr Vernon said.

"People being unwell on a ship can have big knock-on effects. In a month at sea a lot can happen, particularly in Antarctica where you're remote."

A priority is keeping the 160m-long scientific and supply vessel free of COVID-19.

The Australian Antarctic Division has gone to great lengths, including quarantining expeditioners in Hobart, to ensure the virus doesn't reach remote research outposts.

All expeditioners heading to Antarctica this season must be fully vaccinated.

"COVID is very much on our minds. We have state-of-the art PCR testing for COVID (on the Nuyina) which has a turnaround time of 40-50 minutes from patient to result," Dr Vernon said.

The medical facility also has the capability for blood transfusions, general anaesthetics and surgery with telemedicine support from the Polar Medicine Unit and on-land specialists.

It has an emergency room, operating theatre, X-ray machine, consulting room and a two-bed ward.

The Nuyina, which is named after a Tasmanian Indigenous word for southern lights, is currently in the South Atlantic Ocean.

The pandemic has delayed the delivery of the ship, which was towed from Romania, where it was built, to Holland to complete trials.

Australian Associated Press