Lockdown imposed only weeks after volcanic eruption . . .
Tonga entered lockdown on Wednesday after two port workers tested positive for COVID on Tuesday, marking the embattled country’s first instance of community transmission. Since the volcanic eruption in January, Tonga has relied heavily on foreign aid from its neighbours. A “contactless” aid plan was devised and exercised with great caution to avoid an outbreak, but despite these best efforts, COVID still took hold. An Australian Navy ship brought supplies to Tonga with 25 infected crew members aboard, although the connection to those infected on the island remains under investigation. Despite relatively high vaccination rates, Tonga remains vulnerable due to its limited health care resources, remote location, and population spread over more than 100 islands.
COVID starts island hopping . . .
COVID outbreaks have exploded across the Pacific Islands as January’s breakouts in Kiribati, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Samoa continue to grow and keep the islands shut down. Many Pacific Island countries are eager to reopen their borders to international tourism, but the recent outbreaks have highlighted their vulnerability. Vaccination rates vary across the region, but access to health care is a consistent problem. Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have announced their intention to reopen to international tourist travel despite ongoing Omicron surges. Although they have better access to health care than the Pacific Islands, they remain very vulnerable to COVID outbreaks due to low vaccination rates. Tourism-dependent economies, including many Pacific Island countries, will continue to experience economic troubles from COVID in the foreseeable future.
The end of COVID-zero policies in the Pacific . . .
Major devotees of ‘COVID-zero,’ including Australia and New Zealand, have already abandoned the policy in favour of reopening to international travel and relaxing restrictions to stimulate their economies. The abandonment of COVID-zero by the largest economies in Oceania leaves neighbouring Pacific Islands with tough choices around reopening, although their reliance on Australia and New Zealand for aid, supplies, and eventually tourism leaves them vulnerable to inheriting their COVID troubles. COVID took two years to arrive in some Pacific Islands with force, and the toll it could take in the coming weeks could be devastating.