COVID-19 coronavirus measures at ESO
9 March 2020
Final update (23 May 2022):
From 28 May, ESO will reopen public visits to its observatory sites in Chile, following two years of pandemic-related closures. For more information, please check our dedicated announcement.
Update (9 May 2022):
At its headquarters in Garching, ESO started a new phase of its ramp-up plan this week, with staff now generally working full-time on site. Some COVID-19 health and safety measures remain.
Visitors can now come to HQ, subject to receiving an invitation and completing a health declaration form, including acknowledgement of the applicable COVID-19 safety rules.
The ESO Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre is operating with its normal opening hours and is offering planetarium shows and tours in the exhibition, subject to COVID-19 health and safety measures.
Update (30 March 2022):
Two years after operations at ESO’s observatories in Chile were scaled back due to the pandemic, the organisation has now moved the sites into full operation. The measure applies to Paranal, La Silla and APEX. Staff levels at these sites will return to pre-pandemic levels, all telescopes, instruments and modes will be in operation, and visiting astronomers will be welcomed at the observatories again. Some COVID safety measures will remain, including mask-wearing, ventilation and distancing.
ESO has also announced that it will soon be able to resume public visits at the sites. More information on this will be provided in due course.
Update (06 September 2021):
At its headquarters in Garching, ESO started a new phase of its ramp-up plan this week, with staff now working part of the time on site. The ESO Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre remains open and is offering planetarium shows, under strict health and safety measures, in line with local regulations.
Activity at ESO’s observatory sites in Chile has progressively ramped-up over the past few weeks. Science observations are taking place at Paranal, La Silla and APEX, albeit with a reduced staff presence at the sites. In Vitacura, most staff members continue to work remotely part of the time.
Public and media visits to all ESO sites in Chile and to the ESO headquarters building in Garching are still not allowed, except for operationally critical activities.
Update (15 June 2021):
The ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre in Garching, Germany, has started to offer planetarium shows again. For more information, and to book tickets, please check the ESO Supernova press release.
In Chile, in response to the current pandemic situation, operations at the ESO observatories in the country have been reduced to lower the presence of people on the sites. With the capital Santiago back in lockdown, only critical operations are being conducted at ESO’s office in Vitacura and nearly all staff is working from home.
Update (19 May 2021):
As the pandemic situation improves in both Chile and Germany, ESO is taking steps to ramp up operations at its sites.
In Garching, Germany, the exhibition area of the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre has now opened to the public, with specific health and safety measures in place.
At the sites in Chile, ESO is gradually bringing more telescopes and instruments back into operation.
Update (27 April 2021):
In response to the evolution of the pandemic in Chile, operations at the ESO observatories in the country have been further reduced to lower the number of people present at the sites. La Silla, Paranal and APEX are temporarily back to minimal science operations, with some of the telescopes doing observations. The status at the Vitacura office remains unchanged since the last update.
In Garching, Germany, the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre will remain closed over the coming weeks. The current on-site work restrictions at ESO headquarters will remain in place until late May.
Update (30 March 2021):
Due to the evolution of the pandemic in Chile, ESO has further restricted the number of staff at its observatory sites (Paranal, APEX and La Silla); science observations continue with most of the telescopes. At the Vitacura office in Santiago, only critical operations are being conducted and nearly all staff is working from home.
In Garching, Germany, the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre will remain closed until mid-April. The current on-site work restrictions at ESO headquarters will remain in place until late April.
Update (16 March 2021):
The ALMA observatory, in which ESO is a partner, has announced that science operations at the site should resume this month. For more information, please check the announcement on this published by the Joint ALMA Observatory.
The safety measures at ESO’s headquarters in Germany have been extended in response to the development of the pandemic in the country. The on-site presence arrangements communicated in the last update will now hold until 11 April. The ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre will remain closed until at least 21 March.
In Chile, there are no changes to report in Vitacura nor at ESO’s observatory sites — Paranal, APEX and La Silla — which remain in a restricted operations mode.
Update (24 February 2021):
In response to the development of the pandemic in Germany and Chile, ESO has extended the current on-site presence arrangements at its premises.
In Garching, Germany, the on-site occupancy limit has been raised to 30%, but meeting rooms remain closed. On-site presence for operationally critical activities continues to be guaranteed within safety conditions. The ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre will remain closed until at least 7 March.
In Chile, the occupancy limit of 40% of staff on site at the Vitacura office will remain in place until 28 March. The ESO observatory sites, Paranal, APEX and La Silla, remain in a restricted operations mode, as indicated in the January update to this announcement.
The ALMA observatory, in which ESO is a partner, continues to work to bring the array back online. For more information, please check the COVID-19 announcement on the Joint ALMA Observatory website.
Update (20 January 2021):
The safety measures implemented at ESO sites in Garching and Vitacura in response to the development of the pandemic have been extended until the end of February. At the headquarters in Germany, the majority of ESO staff who can work from home will continue doing so until 28 February, while the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre will remain closed until at least 14 February. In Vitacura, Chile, a maximum of 40% of staff is allowed on site on any given day.
The ESO observatory sites, Paranal, APEX and La Silla, remain in a 'restricted operations' mode with science observations being conducted.
The ALMA observatory, in which ESO is a partner, is ramping up its plan to return to operations, and expects to resume scientific observations in March. ALMA management has also announced updates on their call for observing proposals, which can be found on the ALMA Observatory website.
Update (1 December 2020):
The safety measures implemented at ESO headquarters in Garching in response to the development of the pandemic in Germany have been extended. Most ESO staff at headquarters will continue to work from home until 10 January 2021, while the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre will remain closed until at least Friday 15 January.
In Chile, the Paranal, APEX and La Silla observatory sites continue to ramp up science operations under strict safety measures. The observatories are expected to enter a ‘restricted science operations’ mode, with more science observations being conducted, in the course of December.
Meanwhile, the management of ALMA, in which ESO is a partner, has announced that their work on restarting the array is progressing well and that regular science operations at ALMA won’t be possible before March 2021.
Update (3 November 2020):
At its headquarters in Garching, ESO implemented this week a series of safety measures in line with Germany’s new restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. Most ESO staff are now working from home and the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre is closed. These measures will be in place until the end of November.
In Chile, the positive development of the pandemic has allowed ESO to continue minimal science operations at La Silla, Paranal and APEX under strict safety measures. In Paranal, all unit telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope are now observing the skies, with four instruments (one on each of the unit telescopes) doing science observations.
Nonetheless, public and media visits to ESO observatories remain suspended, with no visits taking place at least until the end of December. In particular, no visits to ESO observatories will be possible in mid December, when a total solar eclipse will be visible from southern Chile.
Update (21 October 2020):
Minimal science operations have now restarted at ESO’s La Silla Observatory under strict health and safety measures. At present, only the EFOSC2 instrument on ESO's New Technology Telescope is in operation and available to astronomers observing remotely.
Update (1 October 2020):
The management of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner, has announced today that it will initiate the long process of restarting the array, in view to resuming operations and ultimately science observations next year. For more information, please check the Joint ALMA Observatory announcement.
Update (18 September 2020):
Minimal science operations have restarted at ESO’s Paranal Observatory under strict health and safety measures. For more information, read our dedicated announcement: Science operations restarted at Paranal following pause due to the pandemic.
Update (28 August 2020):
Following a detailed assessment of the pandemic development and the logistic, technical, and safety constraints associated with it, ESO has concluded that it will be able to re-establish a minimum level of science operations at its observatory sites in Chile in the coming weeks. These limited operations will be conducted under strict health and safety conditions, to ensure protection for its staff at all times. The expected dates of re-starting science operations under this scheme are 23 September at Paranal and APEX. It is not yet possible to provide an estimated restart date for La Silla, which would take place in any case after Paranal and APEX. ESO will continue to closely follow the development of the pandemic in Chile, and will revert back to the present safe mode if health and safety considerations so dictate. For more information, please see the announcement to our science user community: Minimal science operations to be resumed at Paranal, APEX and La Silla.
Update (3 August 2020):
At its headquarters in Garching, ESO started last week a new phase of its ramp-up plan, with staff now working on site on a part-time basis and under strict health measures. The ESO Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre will reopen for visitors on Wednesday 5 August under a comprehensive hygiene plan to ensure the safety of all visitors and staff. Visits to the ESO headquarters building in Garching are still not allowed, except for operationally critical activities.
In Chile, the measures implemented previously continue to apply. The ELT construction site remains closed. ESO staff in Vitacura are working remotely and all ESO observatories are in safe mode with no science observations taking place. We are regularly assessing the situation in Chile to determine when it will be possible to restart science observations.
Astronomers should check the ESO science pages for updates and other information relevant to the scientific community.
Update (24 June 2020):
Following the confirmation of seven positive cases among members of their construction crew and the broader development of the COVID-19 pandemic in Chile, the ACe Consortium (the company in charge of the ELT dome and telescope main structure design and construction) has decided to suspend works at the ELT construction site on Armazones until further notice. We wish those affected a speedy and full recovery.
Update (19 June 2020):
Many of the measures ESO has implemented in the past couple of months continue to apply.
In Chile, staff in Vitacura continue to work remotely. All ESO observatories continue in safe mode and no science observations are taking place. There is a ramp-up plan in place to start performing basic science operations with limited staffing at the sites whenever possible. Reviews are taking place every two weeks to regularly assess whether the conditions in Chile allow to initiate the ramp-up plan. Astronomers should check the ESO science pages for updates and other information relevant to the scientific community.
In Germany, staff have gradually started to return to the ESO Garching Headquarters. Currently, staff members who are not in quarantine can return to the office on a voluntary basis for limited periods. For the time being, no visitors are allowed on site (except for operationally critical activities that cannot be done remotely) and the ESO Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre remains closed.
Ramp-up plans in Chile and Germany are being developed and implemented in line with national regulations and under strict health and safety guidelines.
Update (25 May 2020):
ESO has had the first confirmed case of COVID-19 among its staff. All necessary safety measures have been implemented and colleagues have been informed.
Update (4 May 2020):
By and large, the measures ESO implemented in the past few weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to apply for the time being. At the same time, ESO is stepping up preparations to ramp up operations, starting with bringing a very limited amount of staff back to the sites in Garching and Vitacura. This ramp up is dependent on the evolution of the pandemic in Germany and Chile, and is being done in line with national regulations and under strict safety guidelines at the ESO premises.
Update (9 April 2020):
ESO has decided to extend the measures it has implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic until at least 3 May. The vast majority of ESO staff in Germany and Chile will continue to do mobile work, and the observatories will remain in a safe-state mode with no science operations taking place. All duty travel remains cancelled, with the exception of commuting to and from the observatory sites for the minimal teams currently working there. No visitors are allowed in any of ESO's premises, including the ESO Supernova, which remains closed.
ESO continues to closely monitor COVID-19 developments in Chile and Germany, and has a business continuity plan in place to ramp up operations when the situation allows it.
Update (2 April 2020):
The transition of all ESO observatory sites to a safe state was completed last week and science observations have now been paused. A minimal team remains on each site to ensure the safety of the facilities and the wellbeing of the remaining people.
Update (20 March 2020):
Following the latest developments in the COVID-19 outbreak, ESO management has decided to gradually cease science operations on all its observatory sites. ESO’s priority remains the wellbeing and safety of its staff and reducing the number of people at Paranal, La Silla and APEX is part of this effort. The sites are transitioning into a safe state with a minimal team on site to ensure the safety of the facilities and the remaining people.
The management of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner, has also decided to close its observatory on Chile’s Chajnantor plateau. The Joint ALMA Observatory announced the stopping of science operations, and that the ALMA observatory will shut down until further notice.
Astronomers should check the ESO science pages for information relevant to the scientific community.
Update (16 March 2020):
In light of recent COVID-19 developments, ESO has decided to implement further measures to fight the pandemic. Our highest priority remains the safety and wellbeing of staff and the public. Following the cancellation of public visits and activities, and the limitations in duty travel, ESO's observatory sites are transitioning into a restricted operation mode, reducing the number of staff on site while maintaining basic science operations. We are now also moving towards remote working for as many staff as possible in Garching, Germany and Santiago, Chile.
Original announcement (9 March 2020):
As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, ESO is actively monitoring the situation and taking measures to ensure the safety of its staff and the public. These measures are being taken out of precaution: no COVID-19 case has been confirmed at any of the ESO sites.
In Germany, ESO has decided to close the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre during the month of March, to ensure the safety of staff and visitors. Public activities at ESO’s Garching Headquarters are also cancelled, including the planned Girls’ Day Event.
In Chile, where ESO’s observatories and its Santiago offices are located, the organisation is suspending all public visits to ESO’s La Silla and Paranal Observatories until further notice. Public activities at the Vitacura-Santiago office are also cancelled during the month of March, including the planned Open House Day.
In addition, ESO is working to limit travel by staff and visitors, including visiting astronomers. We are promoting remote participation for international conferences and limiting duty travel to instances deemed to be mission-critical and time-critical. Visitors are asked to check with their ESO contact before travelling whether their visit or event is still on and, if so, what measures would apply for their specific case.
ESO will continue to implement measures in response to the global spread of the disease as and when deemed necessary, taking a pragmatic, sensible and flexible approach to the situation. The situation will be reviewed in the coming weeks and further information will be provided if there are changes to these measures.
We ask for the understanding of all those who may be affected by these measures. We are fully committed to putting the wellbeing and safety of people first.
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
ESO Chile Press Officer
Tel: +56 2 2463 3151
About the Announcement