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In Brief: News from around the Pacific

Thursday 23 September 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Pacific Islands, Regional

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In Brief: News from around the Pacific
Downtown Apia, Samoa Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

Two day lockdown for vaccination begins in Samoa; Cooks extending subsidy; report critises Jakarta over West Papua; Niue MP finally getting vaccine and more...

Two day lockdown for vaccination begins in Samoa

A two-day national lockdown has begun this morning in Samoa as it seeks to ramp up its public Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The Ministry of Health has instructed people to stay home today and tomorrow as its roving teams vaccinate every eligible person.

The two-day campaign seeks to boost immunisation coverage against the Covid-19 virus to 99 percent of the eligible population, as the expiry date for Samoa's stock of AstraZeneca approaches.

The last time the country went into complete lockdown was during the 2019 measles epidemic in order to roll out a two-day mass immunisation programme.

Cooks extending aid to help businesses and workers

The Cook Islands is extending the wage subsidy while New Zealand remains in lockdown.

The government is also handing out grants to support struggling businesses, particularly in tourism.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said he remains hopeful New Zealand will be able to stamp out the virus as soon as it can.

Today Auckland moved to lockdown level three while the rest of the country remains at level two for at least two weeks.

Until then, grants will be available to support families and keep the economy afloat.

Mr Brown said the business support is to prevent the closure of businesses and to keep their employees working in the Cook Islands.

This has meant significant government borrowing and increased debt, including support from New Zealand.


Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Pandemic used to repress West Papuans says report

A new report is accusing the Indonesian government of using the pandemic as a pretext to crack down on West Papuan rights to freedom of expression.

A report by the human rights watchdog TAPOL has tracked crackdowns by Indonesian security forces on street protests, as well as public and online discourse by Papuans since the pandemic began.

TAPOL said Covid-19 protocols have given more power to police and military to crush protests at a time when Indonesian lawmakers have been reconfiguring how Papua will be administered.

It says repressive measures in 2020 left almost no space in which any West Papuan issues or protests could be freely conducted.

Niue MP will finally get the jab

One of Niue's last hold outs for the Covid-19 jab, MP Terry Coe, is to line up with the island's school children on Thursday, for his first jab.

Almost all adults on the island have been vaccinated for weeks, though Mr Coe says he is one of 10 still to get it.

"I wasn't keen on it. I wasn't against it but I just didn't feel like getting it because of my health and that is all good and I thought that if I did happen to pick it I should be able to survive, and that was that. So I thought well I won't get it, but there has been a lot of pressure on me to get it, so I will get it," he said.

Mr Coe said he does have concerns that people think once they have the vaccine they won't get the virus.

He said with the high vaccination rates on the island people have become complacent but given the prevalence of obesity and diabetes they have to recognise the ongoing threat.

Boeing undergoing safety checks

The Samoan Government said the new Samoa Airways Boeing 737-800 aircraft was undergoing all safety checks and all spare parts will be secured before arriving.

The Minister responsible for Samoa Airways, Leatinu'u Wayne Sooialo, assured Parliament yesterday that it was only a matter of time before the aircraft arrives in Apia.

Leatinu'u was responding to former Minister Lautafi Selafi Purcell's concern over the delay in bringing over the airline.

Lautafi was the minister responsible for negotiating with the Netherland Government the Boeing 737-800 lease to Samoa, and according to him, everything was ready and it was just a matter of bring the airline home after it went through the final checks in Brisbane, Australia.

"The delay is not the license but securing funds to buy spare parts for the airline, and when it's ready," said Leatinu'u.

The Minister for Civil Aviation, Olo Fiti Vaai told Parliament that he was responsible for the delay.

"Unless the airline satisfies all safety requirements for our country's safe use then we will certify bringing the aircraft over," the Minister said.

Olo's clarification surprised Lautafi who said everything was ready and all it took was to bring the airline home, but he did agree that safety is a priority.

He said that the lease arrangement is beneficial for Samoa and the country may miss the opportunities if the aircraft is delayed.

The aircraft was delayed when Covid-19 forced the borders to close in March 2020.