Status update February 2022 – Positive outlook for the Azores expedition in March/April

We are hopeful that the Azores expedition in March/April can go ahead for several reasons:

1. If South Africa and Britain are anything to go by, the omicron wave is short and sharp with those who are vaccinated at low risk of falling severely ill or having to be admitted to hospital. Despite high infection rates, health services are not being overwhelmed. These are all signs of the virus entering its endemic phase, alongside other endemic viruses such as the flu.

2. Restrictions are being relaxed or removed completely in many countries now, as governments realise we are entering a phase of having to learn to live with the endemic version of the virus.

3. Infection rates on the Azores are low and falling.

4. Travel to the Azores is currently not restricted and the requirements one has to fulfill to fly in are not laborious and what we have all become used to.

5. Almost all expeditioners on the expedition are keen for the expedition to go ahead.

In the interest of transparency for everyone, here are excerpts from e-mails to the Azores expedition team so that everyone can see how we are handling the situation and trying to move towards running expeditions again with the virus around:

30 January 2022

Dear expeditioners,

Following on from our e-mail below, a couple of people decided to defer, but these places were immediately taken up by new signups or people on the waiting list, so we still have a booked out, three group expedition on our books. Travel to the Azores is currently not restricted and the requirements you have to fulfill to fly in are not laborious and what we have all become used to – see for more details. Infection rates on Faial are low and on a downward trend – see for details. So the outlook is positive, especially if the collapse of the omicron wave in South Africa and Britain are anything to go by, as well as relaxation of restrictions in many countries now, as governments realise we are entering a phase of learning to live with the virus, alongside other endemic viruses such as the flu. Our plan at the moment is to all test for the first three days on the expedition at least and then again as required. Anyone testing positive must leave the expedition and quarantine away at their own cost, so make sure you have adequate insurance. We will also require you to bring your own antigen self test kits as well as FFP2 masks (we will provide details of what these are and where you can buy them locally to you). Make sure you bring them with you, as local supplies are limited and we do not want to strain island supplies for the local population. We will write all this up in a detailed document for you within the next couple of weeks and monitor the developing situation in parallel. If you at your end decide against participation based on your own risk assessment and what we say above, then please tell us NOW so that we can gauge how many people do not want to come and defer instead. If you have any other comments or questions, then please feel free to send them in also.

15 January 2022

Dear Azores expeditioners

You will no doubt be wondering whether the expedition will run this year. Our intention is to monitor the situation and start communicating with you again from mid Feb onwards, sharing our intentions and plans based on the latest information. We are cautiously optimistic, because the wave omicron causes seems to be steep and short with low hospitalisation rates. In any case, we believe that we now have to learn to live with the virus – as it will not go away – and as such develop procedures to run our lives – and expeditions – with it around. We will communicate whether and how we intend to do this for the Azores in month at the latest. If you have any questions or comments, please just press reply. If you have already decided you would prefer to defer for another year (see for how it all works), then please let us know also.

Illustration by Ana Kova

Community expeditions update: Tien Shan community camera trappers

Here’s another example of what funding by many generous donors has achieved on the ground with community staff, whilst expeditions with international citizen scientists were impossible during the coronavirus pandemic:

The coronavirus pandemic has made our expeditions to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan with international citizen scientists impossible in 2020 and 2021. But our community camera-trapping group stayed active throughout, thanks to generous support via our coronavirus community appeal. This video shows some of their successes in capturing snow leopards. Well done and thank you for keeping the Biosphere Expeditions flag flying and research work going! Thank you to Amadeus DeKastle for coordinating it all.

Status update January 2022 – Kenya expedition deferred for another year; hopefully this will be the last deferral of 2022

In the end, the decision made itself, because most citizen scientists were not comfortable with coming on the expedition, despite and perhaps because of stringent hygiene procedures. So we will defer the expedition for another year. The 2023 dates are very likely to be 12 – 24 February | 26 February – 10 March and we will confirm this within the next month or so

Hopefully this will be the last deferral of 2022, before we can run expeditions again. If not, things will get difficult for us again and we will have to start another survival fundraiser to make it through. More than two years of no expeditions have really had an impact, to put it mildly.

On the bright side, the WHO chief thinks 2022 will be the year we beat the pandemic, as does clinical epidemiologist Dr. Rhagib Ali. There are certainly encouraging signs that the virus is moving towards the less virulent, endemic stage, to take its place alongside the flu and other endemic viral diseases.

We certainly think that we cannot let Covid rule our lives forever and that we should develop procedures that allow us to live – and run expeditions – with the virus around, because it will not go away. We tried with this Kenya expedition and failed. May the next try with the Azores, starting at the end of March, be successful!

Illustration by Ana Kova

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