A British serviceperson has become the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the Falkland Islands.
The Falklands government said the patient was transferred from a UK military base on the territory to the only civilian hospital on Tuesday with “a range of COVID-19 symptoms”.
The patient, who is not on a ventilator, is said to be in a stable condition.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that a member of “British Forces South Atlantic Islands personnel” had tested positive for the illness.
“The individual adhered to government guidelines and self-isolated upon showing symptoms. There is no threat to colleagues or the work environment,” a spokesperson said
A health team on Mount Pleasant base – home to some 1,300 military personnel – is tracing all the people the patient had contact with.
Dr Rebecca Edwards, the chief medical officer on the islands, sought to reassure islanders, saying that the King Edward Memorial Hospital was enforcing strict isolation procedures.
“We knew the day would come when we would have our first confirmed case, and in some respects we are fortunate that we have been COVID-19 free until now as we have taken this time to plan our approach within the hospital and also from a wider perspective,” she said in a statement.
“We have reorganised the hospital and staffing arrangements, and put our supplies and pharmaceuticals in place, which many countries were not in a position to do before they identified their first cases.”
But the fact the first confirmed case of COVID-19 came from the Mount Pleasant base could raise questions for the MoD about what steps had been taken to reduce the risk of exporting the disease from the UK to the remote British overseas territory some 8,000 miles away.
Sky News reported this week that some 25 people – a combination of military personnel and family members – were suffering possible coronavirus symptoms at Mount Pleasant base on East Falkland, set up after the 1982 war with Argentina.
They have been put in isolation as a precaution, though an initial batch of coronavirus tests came back as negative.
A number of islanders are also self-isolating after displaying symptoms of the illness.
The Falkland Islands government has imposed strict new measures as a precaution.
All schools and nurseries closed last Friday until at least the start of the new term in May and everyone, except those deemed critical workers, has been told to stay at home.
About a sixth of the population is classed as high-risk, mainly those over 70 with underlying health conditions.
Britain this week sent military medics and specialist kit to double the intensive care capacity on the islands because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The six-strong team, with equipment for two intensive care beds, arrived on Tuesday.
Other medical supplies have also been dispatched, including additional oxygen, face masks and medication.
Major-General Julian Thompson, who played a leading role in repelling Argentinian forces from the Falklands almost 40 years ago, said Britain’s defences could be compromised by a COVID-19 outbreak among the military.
“If you get it badly you are going to end up with a lot of guys ill and not fit to defend the place,” he said.
The military is looking to fly some service personnel, civil servants and contractors, who are deemed particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, back to Britain to reduce the burden on the limited medical capacity at the base should an outbreak occur.
A small number of islanders may also choose to use the Royal Air Force airbridge that runs twice-weekly between Mount Pleasant and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
Alongside the 1,300 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Royal Marines stationed at Mount Pleasant are hundreds of contractors and a contingent of civil servants.
The base houses a detachment of fast jets, along with their airborne refuelling tanker, able to scramble at any time in response to any threat. It also has a radar array that has to be constantly manned.