As of March 16, there have been six reported cases in the Pacific. The first three were confirmed in French Polynesia and the latter three were confirmed Sunday night in Guam. The first confirmed case in the Pacific was French Polynesia Maina Sage, who self-isolated after a trip to Paris on March 7.
The coronavirus has resulted in tightened travel restrictions, including cruise ships being banned in French Polynesia, Cooks Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga. In Samoa, travellers from 33 countries must self-quarantine for two weeks and show coronavirus test results no older than five days. Anyone entering French Polynesia must show medical certificates. Tonga declared a public emergency, meaning at any time mass gatherings could be banned and kava bars closed. Fiji has banned international events, as well as foreigners attending local events. Flights have been reduced, and Marshall Islands began a two-week restriction on all air travel to the country, currently set to end on March 22. The Federated States of Micronesia is prohibiting entry anyone who has been to a country with at least one case in the last two weeks.
In addition to negative effects on Pacific Islanders’ health, tourism is being affected. Tourism represents around 40% of GDP for Palau, Vanuatu and Fiji, and is in fact the main export for those countries and Samoa. So even if those countries do not actually come into contact with the virus, it is expected that they will still struggle in the weeks ahead, particularly with limited budgets and health systems insufficient for handling the virus. While some have theorized that heat has an impact on coronavirus and while much of the population in the Pacific is spread out, there are some high population clusters in the region.
It should also be stressed that the above refers to what we traditionally consider to be part of the Pacific Islands. The numbers are higher if you consider the outer regions: There were 17 new cases in Indonesia on March 16 (134 total), with eight known recoveries and five deaths. In Australia there have been 298, with five deaths and 23 recoveries. In New Zealand there have been eight confirmed cases but no deaths thus far.
Pacific Peoples Partnership (PPP) will continue to monitor the pandemic’s impact on the Pacific and keep people informed. For our own operations, PPP is currently practicing a stage 1 response to COVID-19 including limiting access to our office to the general public, remote working where possible, social distancing and cancelling all events for the immediate time being. We continue to monitor this dynamic situation as it unfolds with the goal to keep our Pacific community safe.