Papua New Guinea’s capital in lockdown . . .
Authorities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are warning of an emerging COVID-19 catastrophe with infections spiking and the country’s vulnerable health-care system unprepared for widespread hospitalizations. There are currently 72 confirmed cases, although the country’s Prime Minister has publicly stated that the number of infections is more likely between 5,000 and 10,000. PNG’s first two COVID deaths were reported earlier this week, and Port Moresby, the capital city, is now in lockdown. Australia and the World Health Organization have dispatched emergency medical response teams to bolster the country’s response. Authorities are also concerned about potential transmission from West Papua, the Indonesian side of the island of New Guinea, where confirmed cases number near 3,500.
A patchwork of COVID responses across the Pacific . . .
Other Pacific countries are facing different challenges according to the coronavirus’ prevalence on their shores. French Polynesia (e.g. Tahiti and Bora Bora) has not experienced a new COVID-19 case for weeks, and on July 15, re-opened to international tourists, including from the U.S. and Europe. Strict testing requirements are in place for visitors. Fiji, however, remains closed to visitors, although domestic restrictions were eased in late June to allow for gatherings of up to 100 people, and cafés, restaurants, and cinemas have re-opened. After two months COVID-free, in July Fiji has had nine new cases involving citizens returning on repatriation flights from India and one death.
Tanking tourism and atrophying economies . . .
Tourism is a mainstay of many Pacific Island economies – around 40 per cent of Fiji’s GDP and 17 per cent of French Polynesia’s – and COVID shutdowns have starved Pacific nations of much-needed tourism income. The economic and social consequences are dire, and the prospect of a large-scale return of tourists remains slim without a COVID-19 vaccine. Fiji’s proposed ‘Bula Bubble’ (‘bula’ means ‘hello’ in Fijian) in which Australian and New Zealand tourists would be allowed to holiday at certain resorts separated from locals was met with criticism domestically and has not been taken up by either Canberra or Wellington. Prospects for a broader Pacific travel bubble, which was proposed to include Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands with low COVID rates, remains hypothetical until Australia’s second wave outbreak is contained.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Australia to send medics to PNG to help respond to coronavirus outbreak (audio)
- Policy Forum: PNG COVID-19 spike adds to border concerns
- Radio New Zealand: Covid-19 ‘widespread’ in PNG capital