Covid-19’s tentacles across the Pacific

Fiji has four cases, and Samoa and Tonga have so far managed to avoid a positive test for Covid-19 - but Pacific island nations are on high alert, writes Teuila Fuatai

As New Zealand begins its nationwide lockdown, its Pacific neighbours continue efforts to contain Covid-19.

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama yesterday identified the country’s fourth Covid-19 case, which came via Australia.

A 28-year-old Fijian national arrived at Suva airport on Saturday and was commended for doing “everything right” by Bainimarama.

“He went from the airport straight to his flat in Suva, where he immediately self-quarantined,” Bainimarama said yesterday.

“That Sunday night, while he was still self-quarantined, he developed mild symptoms –– a sore throat, and then a cough.” After the man returned a positive test, he and his family were taken to hospital where they remain in isolation.

The case differed significantly from the country’s first interaction with the virus. Its first three cases stemmed from a Lautoka man who had travelled through the US and Auckland. The man did not self-isolate, and so far, two of his family members have tested positive.

While his entire household was in quarantine, the Lautoka region remains under strict containment orders that have effectively isolated residents from the rest of Fiji.

Bainimarama confirmed authorities were still trying to contact 37 close contacts from the first case. Nationwide, a ban on gatherings of more than 20 people was in place, and all weddings, funerals, concerts and sports events have been cancelled.

In Sāmoa, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi issued a fresh round of emergency orders on Monday. While there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in the country, seven people are awaiting results.

By Wednesday, all international travel would be prohibited, unless approved by the Cabinet. Passenger travel between Savai'i and the main island of Upolu is also being suspended. Schools, restaurants and businesses will remain closed until further notice. A suspension on church services is also covered by the order and all Samoans are directed to observe fasting and prayer between 6 am and Noon daily until next Sunday.

In Tonga, all restrictions announced last week when Prime Minister Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa declared a state of emergency was to take effect Monday night. In addition to border closures, bars, night clubs and kava clubs will need to shut. Restrictions had also been placed on public gatherings. A quarantine site at the Taliai Army Camp in Fua'amotu had already been used for several suspected cases. Like Sāmoa, Tonga is yet to identify any cases of Covid-19.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, governments continue to shut travel routes, schools and businesses. In the Cook Islands, three people have been identified as possible Covid-19 cases. One was being treated in hospital, and the remaining two are in quarantine. Swabs for all three had been sent to New Zealand.

Cook Island Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman told local media that people needed to be prepared for a change in the country’s Covid-19-free status.

“We’re sharing this information publicly because we want to impress on our community about the critical importance of continued social distancing practices.”

Currently, the two worst-hit Pacific nations have been French Polynesia and Guam. French Polynesia yesterday confirmed 23 cases of Covid-19, while the number of cases reached 29 in Guam. The death of a 68-year-old woman in the US territory at the weekend was also the Pacific's region's first death related to Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank has said a pandemic rescue package of US$6.5 billion for developing countries was being considered. The package would include Pacific nations.

*Made with the support of NZ On Air*

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