Islands ramp up precautions as virus spreads in the region

Monday August 31, 2020 Written by RNZ Published in Small World
Masks now compulsory on French Polynesia public transport Photo: supplied Masks now compulsory on French Polynesia public transport Photo: supplied

Coronavirus cases are increasing in French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawai‘i and Guam as the rest of the Pacific remains vigilant in efforts to keep the pandemic from spreading to their island havens.

French Polynesia has recorded another 35 Covid-19 cases, bringing its total for the month to 444, RNZ has reported.

The latest figures showed 10 people were in hospital, including two in intensive care.

The new outbreak has affected seven times more people than the first Covid-19 wave from March to June.

Covid-19 began to spread again after the government last month opened the border to boost tourism and abolished quarantine requirements for arriving travellers.

According to the government, about a dozen cases concerned tourists while the vast majority was the result of local transmission.

With international flights resuming between Tahiti and France as well as the United States last month, more than 90 per cent of the 7500 visitors were from these two countries.

Domestic air travel has returned to about 68 percent of what it was a year ago.

Papua New Guinea has recorded 29 new cases of Covid-19 and one more death.

On Friday, the death toll stood at five with the total confirmed cases reaching 453.

Of the 29 new cases, 23 were from the Ok Tedi gold and copper mine in Western Province where 166 cases had been confirmed.

The National Capital District had the most cases with six new ones taking the total to 268.

PNG’s Pandemic Response Controller, David Manning, is urging people to heed health and safety measures including the wearing of masks and maintaining physical distancing of 1.5 metres in public.

“Covid-19 is going to be with us for a long time. We all need to be aware of this and take care of our health as well as our loved ones,’’ he said.

In the wake of skyrocketing coronavirus infections in Hawai’i and Guam, and government-mandated “lockdowns” in both islands, the Marshall Islands government has suspended non-essential outbound air travel.

Guam and Hawai’i are the two primary destinations for Marshall Islands travellers.

Hawai’i reported 305 new cases Friday and Guam 112 as governments in both locations issued stay at home orders and closed businesses, parks and beaches to limit the spike in cases since the beginning of August.

Leaders in the Marshall Islands – which has remained Covid-free so far – had become increasingly concerned by the number of infections among non-Hawaiian Pacific islanders – which includes Marshallese – in Hawai’i who now account for 31 percent of all coronavirus cases in the state, but are only four percent of the population there.

They are the hardest hit of all groups in the state, with an infection rate 10 times the average for other races, according to Hawai’i Health Department statistics.

The next international flight to Hawaii and Guam is scheduled for mid-September.

The CNMI government is preparing to extend the ongoing ban on inbound travel for at least another 30 days before the current order expires September 5.

Samoa is to change the mandatory 14-day quarantine period to 21 days for anyone returning to the country in a continued bid to keep Covid-19 off the island nation.

Samoa has extended its State of Emergency to 27 September.

It was due to end on Monday but the extension was announced by the government over the weekend.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has also announced his intention to bump up managed isolation to three weeks –  as well as a move to change a two metre social distance policy to 10 meters.

Speaking to state radio station Radio 2AP, he said 14 days was “not enough” anymore.

Acknowledging international reports about the continued spread of the deadly disease, he said: “We’ve noticed that the virus travels through the air, which means the old restrictions of two metres distances are not operational.

“The two metres we’ve been trying to implement and follow is not strong enough to prevent the virus from spreading.”

Last week the Samoan government suspended all international flights and cancelled a repatriation flight from Auckland – due to fly out on Friday – because of the resurgence of the virus within the community.

Tuilaepa acknowledged that many of the active cases in the outbreak in Auckland was affecting the Pasifika community and there were fears anyone returning from the city to Samoa may be infected.

He said he feared the practice of congregating in large numbers would likely see the coronavirus brought to Samoa.

The extended State of Emergency orders included the continued ban on Sunday trading and sailing between the Upolu and Savaii islands.

Meanwhile, police there have led a major enforcement drive to make sure churches were abiding by the orders’ restrictions on gatherings.

Some churchgoers were physically removed when numbers were more than the 100 allowed.

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