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Coronavirus: How the Pacific is responding

Source: RNZ Pacific

PACIFIC REGION — Pacific nations and terrorities are deepening their restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Over 50 people in the region, including Hawai'i, have now tested positive for Covid-19, while dozens more are being held in isolation while tests are carried out.

Fiji declared its first case yesterday, while in the worst affected territory, Guam, the number of cases has risen to 12.

Samoa and Tonga have each declared a state of emergency in their nations in response to the Covid-19 threat.

Here is the latest on Friday

  • French Polynesia has seen its total increase by five, to 11.
  • Guam saw four new cases, bringing its total to 12.
  • Most countries have now strengthened or introduced border controls.

Here is a guide to what measures each island nation and territory has introduced, but the basic message from most is: Don't go.


The murmurings had been circulating all day on Thursday, panic buying started at supermarkets, and a prominent rugby tournament was cancelled in anticipation. Then, after numerous delays, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama fronted the nation and confirmed it, Fiji had its first case of Covid-19.

Mr Bainimarama said the person had recently returned to Lautoka from abroad, and is in isolation in hospital.

"The person in question was identified, isolated and tested Tuesday evening at the Lautoka hospital," Mr Bainimarama said. "The patient remains under close medical supervision and he is in a stable condition."

Mr Bainimarama said there was no evidence of any community transmission, but the town of Lautoka - Fiji's second-largest - has been placed in effective lockdown.

From midnight last night, all schools and non-essential businesses in the greater Lautoka area have been ordered closed, and the government has asked all who live in the area to stay in the area.

Gatherings of more than 20 people - including meetings and religious services - are now banned, and all nightclubs, gyms, cinemas, swimming pools and fitness centres have also been ordered closed.

Mr Bainimarama also tightened Fiji's border restrictions, extending a travel ban to people from the United States and Europe, including the UK.

All travellers are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.


With 12 cases in total, the US territory of Guam is now the worst-hit of the Pacific countries and territories.

Yesterday, the government confirmed that four more cases were identified, while dozens more were in isolation awaiting test results.

In a statement, the health department said only one of the four new cases had a travel history, raising fears of community transmission.

From noon today, all public spaces, bars, restaurants, recreation and leisure facilities will be ordered closed.

Churches have also been asked to stop public attendance and to limit numbers at funerals.

The government has already imposed mandatory quarantine for anyone arriving on the island.


French Polynesia has recorded another five COVID-19 coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 11.

No further details have been released about the new cases.

On Thursday, three people, including a tourist from Spain, tested positive.

The domestic carrier Air Tahiti says it will suspend all scheduled flights from Sunday night.

Its fleet will then be at the disposal of the government for urgent missions.

Until Sunday, transport is restricted to people needing to travel for work, health issues or urgent family matters.


The New Caledonian government has ordered the closure of public places, such as restaurants, bars, nakamals and casinos, for two weeks.

The new measures were announced after two people with the coronavirus were diagnosed on Wednesday. The pair were two who arrived from Australia for their honeymoon on Tuesday.

Meetings of more than 20 people are now banned in New Caledonia and schools, training institutes and the university have been closed.

Non-residents are not allowed to enter New Caledonia, while passenger traffic between New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna, another French territory, has been suspended.

The president, Thierry Santa, has urged employers to allow work to be done from home.

In suburban Noumea, a suburban sports centre has already been converted into a quarantine facility.


Samoa has declared a state of emergency which comes into effect midnight tonight.

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, announced the measures will be in effect for 14 days.

The Samoa Observer newspaper reported the order included the shutting down of the country's border for all except returning Samoan citizens.

There have been restrictions placed on public gatherings to a total of five.

Public transport is to be temporarily halted with nightclubs, restaurants and cinemas also closed.

Travel to the island of Savai'i has been limited to just three days a week.

Non-essential public servants are also having their hours reduced.

Samoa, only just coming through the other side of a measles epidemic that killed 83 people, is now awaiting test results for its first suspected case of Covid-19.

One person from Auckland is being held in an Apia hospital.


American Samoa currently requires non-US passport holders to spend at least 14 days in Hawaii before entering, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a letter to the US interior secretary, the territory's governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga said "there is great fear that our healthcare service delivery system could collapse if the projections and estimates on the percentage of people who will be infected in the community hold true."

The government has created a Covid-19 taskforce, and brought in self-isolation requirements and heavy screening at the border.

It has also banned cruise ships, but made an exception on Wednesday to allow the cruise ship Norwegian Jewel, which had been bobbing around in the Pacific after it was rejected by four countries, to refuel.

The ship was inspected by the US Coast Guard, and nobody was allowed to disembark. It is now on its way to Hawaii.


Anyone who wants to go to the Cook Islands will have to spend 14 days self-quarantined in New Zealand beforehand. All flights from French Polynesia, Australia and the US have been suspended, and the number of flights from Auckland have been whittled down.

If you do get there, you won't be allowed further than Rarotonga for a while. The Cook Islands health secretary, Josephine Aumea Herman, said that from Saturday, all travellers to the Pa Enua - the outer islands - must first be quarantined in Rarotonga.

"The whole purpose around this is to provide the Pa Enua a safeguard so that we can pretty much avoid the virus going to the Pa Enua," she said.

Ms Aumea Herman said health officials visited the outer islands last week to ensure their preparedness.


Nauru has declared a State of Disaster as it prepares for Covid-19.

President Lionel Aingimea said in an address that there are no cases in Nauru but he says the coronavirus could be devastating if it arrives.

Stringent quarantine and border protection measures are in place, requiring all travellers to spend 14 days in approved transition accommodation, before being allowed into the community.

Flights to and from Nauru have been reduced to one return service to Brisbane once a fortnight.

Mr Aingimea said Nauruans should practice social distancing, avoiding un-necessary human contact and mass gatherings.


In Tonga, the Prime Minister Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa declared a State of Emergency Friday afternoon to help the Kingdom prepare to combat the Covid-19 coronavirus.

All foreign nationals are now banned from entering Tonga in a restriction effective until 17 April.

All Tongan citizens and emergency officials arriving in the Kingdom will now have to go through a 14 day quarantine period.

There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Tonga yet.

Meanwhile, a quarantine site has been set up at the Taliai Army Camp in Fua'amotu, with three people already being held there.


Tokelau, a New Zealand territory north of Samoa, is only accessibe by boat and anyone coming from a country with confirmed cases of coronavirus will not be allowed to board. Returning Tokelau residents must spend 14-days self-isolating in Samoa before boarding.


Anyone hoping to go to Tuvalu must spend 14-days of isolation in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu or Solomon Islands before embarking for the country.


Schools in the capital, Honiara, and the wider Guadalcanal province have been ordered closed, with three suspected cases returning negative this week.

In a national address on Thursday, prime minister Manaseeh Sogavare announced a 90 day ban on all cruise ships and private yachts.

Mr Sogavare also said that from Sunday there would be a major reduction in flights, with Virgin Australia and Air Niugini suspending their services from Brisbane and Port Moresby. Solomon Airlines will only fly three times a week to Brisbane.

All international travellers to Solomon Islands are required to undergo 14 days of self-quarantine.


The prime minister James Marape has been facing mounting criticism this week over its fragmented response to the pandemic, after mixed communication about a possible case that eventually came back negative.

Still, from Sunday, all incoming international flights will be banned, and a government Covid-19 taskforce has been formed.

The lengthy, porous land border with Indonesia has been sealed for two months now, but MPs in the Sepik region have said they'll fund bolstered surveillance, as the number of cases in Indonesia continue to surge.

Provincial governor Tony Wouwou said better surveillance and proper quarantine is needed along the 700km frontier.

But he suggested that since it was difficult to stop people coming across from Indonesia's Papua region by boat or through the bush, it may be best to allow controlled movement at the border post at Wutung.

"People are still crossing at night, through bush tracks, from the other side. This is the problem that we have right now," Mr Wouwou explained.

One of the Sepik MPs, opposition leader Belden Namah, has called on the national government to declare a state of emergency to prevent and contain Covid-19, and send more security forces to control the border.


As a precautionary measure to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, all schools in Palau will be closed starting on Monday until 3 April.

All government-sponsored events, workshops and official overseas travel has been postponed. However, the country is not closing its airport or seaports.


Currently, anyone who's been in China, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia or Thailand is not allowed in Niue without written authorisation from the government.

Cabinet will be meeting to update the travel advisory in the coming days, with Niue's local broadcaster saying Australia is likely to be included in the list of banned countries.

The sitting of the Niue High Court this week - where the judge travels from New Zealand - has been postponed because of coronavirus concerns.


Vanuatu pushed ahead with its general election on Thursday, despite some concerns about mass gatherings.

In a national address on Tuesday the caretaker prime minister Charlot Salwai announced the extension of the ban on cruise ship visits to 60 days, the suspension of the labour mobility scheme to Australia and New Zealand and a reduction in international flights into the country.

Anyone who's been in one of 33 countries - including Australia - in the past 14 days will be denied entry.


The strictest measure is in the Marshall Islands, which has banned all inbound travel altogether until mid-April at the least.

In a country scattered over remote atolls, with a health-system that's been devastated by an ongoing dengue fever epidemic that's stressed eight months, the government is making no apologies for its measures.

"Quite frankly, I don't care what the rest of the world thinks about our really strict travel advisory," the health secretary, Jack Niedenthal, told RNZ last week. He said it allowed the Marshall Islands "breathing space" to build quarantine units and prepare Covid-19 response plans.

"We have to protect our people," he said.


Airports in Hawai'i are expected to begin mandating a 14-day quarantine for arrivals as the US state's COVID-19 case numbers climb to 26.

The Department of Health says as the coronavirus spreads globally and now nationally, more cases are being detected from both visitors and residents alike. It says while there is no indication of community transmission, the cases are concerning and each represents an opportunity for COVID-19 to spread.

The department advises it is time for the community to practice social distancing of at least two arm lengths.


All schools in Federated States of Micronesia have been closed, and the government says it's working to strengthen its quarantine measures.

See video from 1News at end of this page

Reporting was contributed by Bernadette Carreon in Palau and Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia in Apia.