Region lets out breath as virus appears contained

Thursday May 07, 2020 Published in Small World

With infection rates slowing throughout the Pacific islands as well as in Australia and New Zealand, talk has begun to turn to exit strategies as the Covid-19 pandemic emergency winds down in the region.

 

PACIFIC – There have only been five new cases of coronavirus confirmed in the Pacific this week – all of which were in Guam – bringing the regional total to around 260.

Public health officials and politicians are keeping a close watch on Papua New Guinea, fearing a widespread outbreak there, but elsewhere the talk is about how to begin restarting economies and opening borders.

Among the options being discussed is the idea of a trans-Tasman bubble –  the concept of renewed travel to and from Australia.  If and when Australia and New Zealand restart travel, they should include the Pacific in the plan for controlled business and tourism travel.

Guam is still reporting a trickle of new cases. As of Monday, the official total was 149. Five people have died. This information excludes more than 1100 postive cases among US sailors infected on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently docked in Guam.

In the Northern Mariana Islands, the government announced that the “last” Covid-19 patient has recovered. A total of 14 people were infected, with two deaths. Flights between Saipan and Guam resumed last Saturday.

No new cases have been reported in New Caledonia for more than 30 days. The government has said it is nearly 100 per cent certain the virus is not spreading in the territory. While most domestic restrictions are being rolled back, the borders will remain closed for the time being.

 With no new cases reported for more than two weeks, there are only four active cases remaining in Fiji. There have been no deaths. Lockdowns were ended in two communities, but a nationwide curfew remains in place.

In Papua New Guinea, no new cases have been reported and all eight of the confirmed cases have recovered. The last case confirmed was on April 22. Surveillance and contact tracing is continuing, including in border areas. Almost 1500 tests have been undertaken, with the bulk of them in and around Port Moresby.

In neighbouring West Papua, a surge in cases in the mining hub of Mimika regency is cause for concern. Officially, there are 283 cases on the Indonesian half of the island of Papua as at May 2, but fears remain that these numbers are significantly under-reported. Seven people have died.

Business leaders in Vanuatu continue to argue that unnecessary restrictions on the flow of cargo caused by Covid-19 fears are severely delaying the flow of relief supplies to parts of the country affected by cyclone Harold. There are no reported cases in Vanuatu.

 There have been no cases in Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has announced a US$37.5 million economic stimulus package.

Palau remains virus-free. In-country testing capacity has been boosted by equipment donated by Taiwan.

 The government in Tonga has begun relaxing restrictions on public gatherings and other activities, but remains cautious. While daily church services will be allowed, no more than 20 people may attend. Nightclubs may reopen, but only during limited hours.

In Samoa, a state of emergency has been extended until the end of May. Schools and churches are permitted to reopen, but must maintain physical distancing.

Marshall Islands authorities have extended a ban on inbound travel until June 5 at the earliest.

The government in French Polynesia is confident that the spread of the virus in the territory has stopped. The government is planning for the return of stranded residents from overseas and is setting criteria for travellers generally.  There are fears that up to 25,000 jobs could be lost with the collapse of international tourism.

No new cases have been detected on Rapa Nui – or Easter Island – since the initial five at the start of the lockdown in March.  Officials on the Chilean administered island, are being very cautious to avoid further cases of Covid-19 as repatriation flights begin from the mainland.

Tokelau and Niue join the likes of Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Kiribati, the Solomons and several other countries and territories, with no reported cases.

It appears obvious that  the difficulty of travel to these islands, as well as the quick imposition of restrictions, stopped the spread of the disease  across the Pacific which would have overwhelmed the tiny nations’ medical infrastructures.

 

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