Research and story compiled by Andy E. Nystrom, PPP Archivist & Research Assistant
The following information is accurate to April 15, 2020. For the most up-to-date information tracking the COVID-19 virus in South Pacific nations, we recommend Worldometer’s website which regularly updates cases, deaths, and testing. For most countries the information can be found here. For those countries that are under control of the United States, as well as Hawaii, click on USA in the above link or click here.
According to The Guardian’s weekly briefing on the Pacific on April 15, infection figures for the Pacific, while still low, more than doubled from the previous week. While Fiji, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia cases levelled out after their initial rise, they could rise again rapidly should containment efforts fail. A virtual meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum on April 7 led to the establishment of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway for the Pacific (PHP-C), which “provides political commitment to the movement of humanitarian and medical assistance to countries affected by Covid-19, particularly where normal transport routes have been impeded by border closures.”
The following information from the above article on what the Pacific governments are doing as of mid-April is quoted verbatim, including the hyperlinks from the original article:
Papua New Guinea: The government has opened a Covid-19 treatment centre in Port Moresby, which can cater for up to 76 patients. Traditional border crossings (into and from Indonesia, Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Solomon Islands) have been forbidden. The military has been deployed to patrol in some places, especially along the Indonesia border. More than 300 people have registered their interest in being repatriated from around the world.
Fiji: Specialised military vehicles received from China will be used in the fight against Covid-19. The government has allowed for repatriation flights from the US and Australia. Returnees will be required to undergo 14 days of strict quarantine on arrival.
Solomon Islands: Parliament has voted for a four-month state of emergency covering Honiara. Dr Claude Posala who is chair of the Solomon Islands Medical Association, was sacked after taking to Facebook to criticise the government response to Covid-19. The government has closed its maritime border with Bougainville and imposed a two-night curfew over the Easter weekend
Vanuatu: Authorities are maintaining strict protocols for receipt of medical and other humanitarian assistance to minimize risks of introducing the virus. This includes sanitation of supplies received and keeping any accompanying personnel air side. The government has determined that no foreign personnel will be allowed to enter Vanuatu to assist with the humanitarian response to cyclone Harold.
New Caledonia: Restrictions on travel and public gatherings have been extended until 19 April. The customary Senate has called for restrictions to be imposed for longer and wants all weddings this year cancelled. But the provincial president of the Loyalty Islands says the restrictions should be relaxed in his province. Repatriation flights continue, including from Japan and French Polynesia.
Samoa: The prime minister has indicated he has no intention of re-opening borders. The government has announced an economic stimulus package with focus on supporting tourism. The Samoa Hotels Association says 50 hotels have closed and 500 workers have been laid off, with more job losses expected.
Marshall Islands: The government has sought to quell community concerns about proposed and rumoured arrivals by sea and air. The Nitijela was reconvened for an emergency two-day session which included a lengthy briefing from the national disaster committee. An economic impact committee has been established to assess the impact of the shutdowns in various sectors including tourism, hospitality and aquaculture.
Federated States of Micronesia: President David Panuelo has announced a $15m economic stimulus package, with a focus on wage subsidies.
French Polynesia: President Édouard Fritch has advised citizens and residents who are stranded overseas, including in France, that there are no plans to facilitate their repatriation.
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: The government has announced that the public service will be cut in half as a result of a Covid-19 related economic collapse.
Reports from other sources are presented below:
Palau’s President Tommy Remengsau is enforcing strict isolation steps in his country. He has shut off the tourism-dependent nation and plans to continue the isolation until the rest of the world is over the worst of the virus, even if the cost to the government is 60% of tax revenue.
People breaking quarantines is an issue in the Pacific. “One sailor in Guam was caught leaving his room while in quarantine. Meanwhile in Fiji, multiple people breaking the strict lockdown rules has led Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to state those who breach any such regulations should be ‘dismissed’.”
The Hill is critical about the lack of coverage of US territories that are not one of the 50 states, noting that while stats for them are being reported, they are generally left off of corona virus maps of the US. Most Americans know about the USS Roosevelt being docked in Guam but little about Guam itself. In Guam the military “controls nearly a third of Guam’s land. COVID-19 infected sailors from the USS Roosevelt are being moved to the Guam Naval Hospital. Sailors who test negative and are asymptomatic are being quarantined in hotels and kept under military surveillance. This latter move has local leaders and the general public worried that they could endanger the island’s overall health.” The article also notes the difficulties in assessing contagion in the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa (the latter thus far having no confirmed cases) because “they both lack testing capacity and must send their specimens to Guam.”