Coronavirus in the Pacific

Within the current COVID-19 pandemic, over 3.2 million people have been affected. However, there remain territories that have yet to report a case. The Pacific islands of Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Niue, Kiribati and The Cook Islands are a few of the places that have zero confirmed cases of COVID-19. This is due to a number of reasons, including geography and the lockdown procedures that the governments have put in place.

Samoa, which has a population of 198,000 people and recently faced a measles epidemic in late 2019, entered a state of emergency on the 21st of March 2020, under which public gatherings of more than 5 people are not permitted (including church gatherings and school sessions), and a curfew is in place after 4.00 pm. Supermarkets and other markets are only open from 6.00 am to 4.00 pm. Heavy fines are in place for those who commit offences. All international travel was suspended on the 26th of March 2020, and access to the Apia Wharf has only been open for trade and petroleum ships. Other vessels, such as fishing boats, have been prohibited. Before entering the country, people will have to spend two weeks in a country free from the virus. On February 9th, 2020, eight Samoan nationals travelling from India were denied entry into the country as they had a connecting flight through Singapore, which had several cases of the novel coronavirus. Samoa’s heavy-handed approach to the pandemic has kept the small island safe and free from COVID-19.

Similarly, Tonga issued a state of emergency on the 21st of March 2020 and Vanuatu on the 26th of March 2020, closing their ports and effectively cutting the countries off from the world and isolating them, with the exception of the shipment of necessary items.

However, some of Pacific islands have been faced with changing weather conditions as Cyclone Harold, a Category 5 cyclone with wind speeds up to 270 km/h, has left Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu in states of distress in early April 2020. This is a worrying problem for the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have 0 cases of COVID-19. New Zealand is sending in support ships to help; however, the worry is that these supporting defence forces will bring the virus into these relatively unscathed (by the virus) areas. The Pacific Islands are remote and rank in the bottom 17% in the world by GDP, which means they have weak infrastructure, which causes them to be very vulnerable to catastrophe, and facing the virus may be devastating to these small islands, as 40% of Vanuatu’s GDP relies upon the tourism and hospitality sector. There is also a shortage of beds and nurses within the islands: for instance, Vanuatu’s main hospital, Vila Central Hospital, only has 20 beds available. These tropical countries in the Pacific seem to have a natural safeguard from COVID-19 due to their isolated geography, but their locations also subjects these countries to destructive tropical storms on a consistent basis. And with the world population quarantined, these countries that rely so heavily on tourists seem to be in economic danger, as holiday resorts are converted into isolation wards. But considering the extent of the measles epidemic in Samoa in 2019, where over 3% of the population was infected and 83 people died, a coronavirus infection within these small populations could be devastating, but in this case, Samoa was experienced and prepared and was quick to act.

Australia and New Zealand have large amounts of confirmed cases, being countries with larger populations and more accessible to travellers. Australia has a population of 25 million, with 6746 confirmed cases, and New Zealand has a population of 4.9 million, with 1129 confirmed cases (30/04/2020).

Both countries got their first case via overseas travel. However, affiliated countries and territories remain free of the virus, such as The Cook Islands, Niue, Antarctica and Norfolk Island.

Other countries in different regions of the world also remain free from the virus: some due to their inaccessibility, such as Saint Helena, and others possibly due to inaccurate reporting of cases, such as North Korea and Turkmenistan. In summary, the smaller, more isolated countries in the Pacific Ocean are fortunately free from the COVID-19 and will likely remain that way due to their geography and closed borders. However, they face different issues, such as cyclones and an impacted tourism industry. These countries may not have cases of coronavirus, yet it is clear that they are in danger, and they must not be forgotten about. lockdown-shops-closed-people-banned-from-driving.html covid19 out-amid-cyclone-harold-recovery.html vanuatu-one-of-the-only-countries-without-coronavirus

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