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Opinion: A healthy, safe and liveable Pacific

Source: RNZ Pacific

We need you to be part of building a healthy, safe and liveable future.

Most of the Pacific island countries and areas have no confirmed cases of Covid-19, while others have kept the virus contained.

With closed borders and declining economy, many countries are making complex decisions about how to deal with Covid-19 or adapt to what some have called the 'new normal'. Governments are reviewing the measures put in place to control the outbreak in its initial phase, and looking at which of these may be lifted.

While it may feel like we've been living under Covid-19 control measures for a long time, this is still a new virus. The truth is, we are all learning as we go, and we may not get it perfect the first time. If the virus starts to spread in the community, we may need to bring back measures that have been eased. The important things are that we remain flexible, guided by the evidence on the situation as it evolves, and everyone works together to get through this.

The sacrifices you've made over the past few months have made a huge difference. Without the temporary closures of shops, offices and schools, as well as stay-at-home orders, restrictions on travel and postponement of religious and cultural events, hundreds of thousands could have been infected in the Pacific. These measures and your adherence to them helped to prevent transmission of Covid-19, stopped health facilities from being overwhelmed, and saved lives.

These measures have also made life very difficult for tens of thousands of people across the Pacific, and had devastating impacts on economies and societies. Countless people lost their jobs and means of supporting their families, with the poor being most affected. Those with "essential" jobs have worked tirelessly, putting themselves in harm's way to maintain lifelines and health services for the rest of us.

While some measures may now be lifting, this is not a signal that the fight is over. Unfortunately, this is going to be a long battle. In the interconnected world in which we live, as long as the virus is still circulating, and until there is a safe and effective vaccine available to everyone, no country is safe from new cases and waves of infection.

The challenge before us now is to protect public health and maintain readiness for new waves of Covid-19, while at the same time, restarting the economy and our lives. It's a mistake to choose between these.

In fact, we need to improve the health of people and economies, by working together across all sectors of society.

The big decisions that countries now face should be taken by experts on health and economies, as well as community members and entrepreneurs, together, around one table.

We are already seeing the fruits of such collaboration.

New and creative initiatives have been unleashed in the wake of Covid-19. For example, a much wider range of products and services-from farmers' produce to health services-are literally being delivered on people's doorsteps. Some of these new initiatives may provide solutions for problems we have been struggling with for a long time, for example reaching people who have previously been missed out.

Other features of the 'new normal' are that we must all continue Covid-19 prevention practices, like physical distancing in public places, frequently cleaning our hands, and staying home if we're sick.

But it's about more than just changing behaviours-we need to change our attitudes. In the new normal, each of us is responsible not just for ourselves, but also for the health and well-being of our families, colleagues and broader community. It's all of our jobs to listen to the science, stick to the prevention policies even as they shift, and support the vulnerable around us.

This is a region with a strong sense of community and a strong culture of supporting the vulnerable. I urge everyone in the Pacific, from food sellers, to teachers, to government officials-to remain focused and engaged. The road ahead will require solidarity, unity, vigilance and patience.

Please join us in adapting to a new way of living, working and interacting. The more each of us does our part, the more we can bring back economic and social life, while staying safe.

Ultimately, it's up to all of us to build a healthy, safe and liveable future in the Pacific.

Dr Takeshi Kasai is the World Health Organisation Regional Director for the Western Pacific. He has more than 30 years experience in public health, including 15 years at the WHO before being appointed Regional Director in 2019.