Researched by Andy E. Nystrom, PPP Archivist & Research Assistant
In terms of the impact of the coronavirus on the Pacific, as seen from a weekly check of Worldometer statistics, French Polynesia is probably the area to watch: total cases went up over 2,000 between October 21 and 28 and active cases nearly one thousand in the same timeframe, thus leaving behind Guam, whose cases it had been paralleling until recently. In the weeks ahead, French Polynesia might well pass Hawaii. While still the second-lowest country for total cases, Solomon Islands is showing some signs of concern, while its Ministry of Health and Medical Services is pushing for improved and extended nursing practices and roles in the country.
In terms of good news, after only a week’s absence, Fiji became clean (I.e. no cases), and Wallis and Futuna became clean after only joining the list last week. New Caledonia remains clean as of October 28. The Marshall Islands has expressed a desire to work with other Pacific countries on economic recovery if they are also coronavirus free.
One of the very few positive impacts of the coronavirus is the adoption of technology that can remotely monitor fishing vessels and identify different types of fish and other marine life. The Federated States of Micronesia had already committed to this technology in 2018, and in 2020 they’ve been joined by Australia, Chile, and New Zealand.
The Asia & the Pacific Society provides weekly updates on the impact of the coronavirus on the Pacific Islands region. According to the October 28 update:
- Cases are rising in the Pacific overall, particularly French Polynesia in the lead with 5,859 cases.
- Pacific Island Forum leaders have drafted the ‘Protecting the Health and Wellbeing of the Blue Pacific’ statement which they intend to present at December’s United Nations General Assembly special session on COVID-19. It intends to look at the impact of the virus on vulnerable Pacific groups, such as people with disabilities, the elderly, women and girls.
- Foreign Ministers at the Pacific Island Forum last week pushed for equitable access in the region to safe and reliable tests, treatments, and potentially later a vaccine for the virus. They cautioned that while the countries have been faring well in resisting the virus, they still face hardships related to border closures.
- In the same forum, Papua New Guinea’s Labour Secretary noted a loss of 6,000 jobs due to the pandemic and the response to it.
- To address rising case numbers in Tahiti and Morea, a nine-hour curfew between 9 pm and 6 pm has been declared, as well as the cancellation of cultural and sporting events.
- Research from Dr. Api Monovo from Massey University has found that the virus (and resulting job loss) has resulted in Pacific islanders reconnecting with traditional cultures and lifestyles. He says this demonstrates the resilience and innovation of Pacific people and culture.
- Hawaii’s governor is granting a quarantine exemption to American Samoans to enter the state as long as they’re on medical charter flights.
- The latest cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand are a setback for a travel bubble with the COVID-19-free Cook Islands, which sees such a bubble as desirable due to the considerable loss of income to the latter’s tourism industry.