Pacific Islands make up 10 of 12 countries still COVID-19 free

Pacific Islands

There are 12 countries that state they have not had one single case of COVID-19 and 10 of them are nations in the Pacific Islands.

Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Palau, Micronesia, Tuvalu, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, all Pacific Islands, have all remained free of the coronavirus, along with the countries of North Korea and Turkmenistan. The latter two, run by dictators, are not being believed.

The World Health Organization, on 7 August, expressed concerns over the increase of atypical pneumonia cases in Turkmenistan and called on the government to allow it to organise independent coronavirus tests in the country. Medical staff in hospitals in the capital, Ashgabat, said on 3 September that hospitals are overwhelmed and that the number of fatalities had been on the rise, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty reported.

North Korea, which has a 1,420km-long border with China, shut down on 22 January, one day before the coronavirus epicentre Wuhan was placed under lockdown, and a week before the US and Australia moved to close their borders to visitors from China. It claims it has not had a single case. Both countries have ordered their populations to wear face masks.

Pacific islands
North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un has refused to reveal cases of COVID-19 in this country.

The nations of the Pacific Islands quickly closed their borders to international travel at the start of the coronavirus pandemic but there is evidence the stance is softening as the economies have suffered badly. However, the health facilities are under-resourced to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19. There are no Intensive Care Unit beds in the Solomon Islands or Nauru, and the Cook Islands has just two respirators.

Kiribati, which has a population of 110,000 people spread across 32 atolls over the ocean, has decided not to allow any foreign visitors onto its atolls until at least 2021. It is proposed that a group of 20 i-Kiribati stranded in the Marshall Islands will be flown home and then quarantined at a government facility in South Tarawa for two weeks. If this proves successful, the government said repatriation flights from other countries would begin.

In a first break in the Pacific Islands’ lockdown, Vanuatu allowed 160 people to work on farms to pick mangoes in Australia’s Northern Territory following 14 days in quarantine after a flight from Port Vila. Vanuatu’s High Commissioner to Australia, Samson Vilvil Fare, greeted the workers when they came out of quarantine. If successful, the partnership will be repeated.

The Marshall Islands, which has a population of 68,480 people spread over 29 coral atolls, with 1,156 islands and islets, has maintained a ban on incoming visitors since 8 March. However, in June, it approved the US Army repatriating missile test range workers stranded in the US. Since the first group of five arrived on 9 June, nearly 140 people have returned and undergone a 21-day quarantine period at Kwajalein, according to the Marshall Islands government.

In Samoa, where a measles outbreak occurred in December last year resulting in the deaths of 83 people, the government is being very careful. It is set to change its 14-day quarantine period to 21 days. Any Samoan seeking to return to the island nation has to undertake two weeks quarantine before departure and then two weeks’ quarantine in Samoa.

Pacific Islands
The picturesque Savai’i, the biggest island in Samoa. Photo: Samoa Tourism / Twitter

Tonga is under a national lockdown. It announced on 18 September that it has repatriated 45 Samoans from Fiji and Kiribati who had tested negative for COVID-19 and were now in home quarantine for seven days after completing their 14-day quarantine at the Tanoa International Dateline Hotel in Nuku’alofa. Tonga has three machines that can test for COVID-19 at its main medical facility, Vaiola Hospital.

The Solomon Islands, which consists of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands, has a population of 652,858 people and has been closed since March. It said on 16 September that it will repatriate more than 400 students stranded in the Philippines later this month and next month. Twelve of the students have tested positive for COVID-19. No student will be allowed to fly unless they have tested negative to COVID-19 three times.

The leaders of Micronesian countries with no recorded COVID-19 cases are preparing to meet in person for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. Palau’s President Remengesau confirmed that his country will host the leaders of Kiribati, Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands in mid-October.

Millions of dollars of extra financial aid for reparations after Tropical Cyclone Harold and COVID-19 has been given to the nations in the Pacific Islands by the US and Australia.

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