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12 small Oceanian and African island nations in a fight to keep the novel coronavirus at bay

These 12 island nations have a lot in common. They have similar profiles in terms of poverty, numbers of incoming tourists, but as we will see here, all have had slightly different approaches and timelines to protecting themselves from the virus. Some of them are still today with no confirmed cases of the virus, while some others have recently announced their first cases. The numbers listed here are the ones officially communicated by the 3rd of May 2020.

Noteworthy is that out of the 12 countries listed here, 10 are still virus free, and all of them are in Oceania. The 2 African nations have not been as lucky, possibly due to a lack of preventive actions.

Comoros – (3 confirmed cases)

The Comoros is a small Island located in the Mozambique channel off the eastern coast of Africa. At 1,660 km2 (640 sq mi), excluding the contested island of Mayotte, the Comoros is the fourth-smallest African nation by area. The population, excluding Mayotte, is estimated at 832,322. The sovereign state is an archipelago consisting of three major islands and numerous smaller islands, all in the volcanic Comoro Islands. The major islands are commonly known by their French names: northwestern-most Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Mohéli (Mwali), and Anjouan (Nzwani). In addition, the country has a claim on a fourth major island, southeastern-most Mayotte (Maore), though Mayotte voted against independence from France in 1974, has never been administered by an independent Comoros government, and continues to be administered by France (currently as an overseas department).

Up until the 30th of April, the Comoros had officially no coronavirus cases. Unfortunately, being one of the poorest countries in the world, the virus information that had been coming from the country was unlikely to be correct and reliable. It was virtually impossible to be tested for the virus on the island as simply no tests were available. Also, the government approach had been to suppress any suggestions of the virus on the island. Proof of this was the arrest of rapper Cheikh Mc on April 20th after he shared a video saying his wife had been infected with the virus. The French island of Mayotte, located close to the Comoros, had already reported on April 15th that at least one traveler from the Comoros had tested positive.

The 14-day quarantine for travelers did not stop the virus from entering the country, possibly because it was already present in the local population, but now the government has cancelled all incoming flights and banned all large gatherings.

Kiribati – (0 cases)

Kiribati is a small island nation of Oceania composed of multiple atolls. With just over 110,000 inhabitants and very little tourism, the islands have managed to keep themselves free of the virus. The Kiribati government stopped visitors from China on the 1st of February and all travelers were required to fill a health questionnaire. Additionally any travelers from countries with the coronavirus had to go through a self-quarantine period.

Even though the country has not had any confirmed cases of the virus, the president declared a state of emergency on March 28th.

Currently one the biggest impact from the virus is the drying up of the already low number of visitors and its impact on all the economic operators relying on tourism. Besides the threat of the virus, Kiribati is already under immense pressure due to rise of the water levels. It is one of the countries believed to be one of the first ones to be made uninhabitable due to this. Read more on this topic here 

Marshall Islands (0 cases)

The Marshall Islands is an island county located in the middle of the pacific close to the date line. It obtained its independence from the US in 1979 after having been under their administration since the second World War.

The Marshall Islands has managed to stay free from the virus, probably due to the quick actions it took already in January. From the 24th of January, the Republic of the Marshall Islands started requiring that all visitors be able to prove that they had spent at least 14 days in a country without the virus before their arrival on the islands. On 1 March, a ban was effective on all travel from China, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran. Additionally, on March 18th all international flights as well as some intra-island flights were suspended.

Micronesia (0 cases)

The Federated States of Micronesia consists of four states in the geographic region of Micronesia. This Oceanian country is an independent republic associated with the United States.  It is composed of more than 600 islands and islets in the Caroline Islands archipelago and is divided roughly along cultural and linguistic lines into the states of—from west to east—YapChuukPohnpei, and Kosrae. The capital is Palikir, on the island of Pohnpei.

The Micronesian approach to the virus was to first ban all travel by its own citizens to any affected countries, this took place on February 3rd when the main country having cases was still China. By 5th of March however, Micronesia introduced a strict travel ban, banning entry for anyone who had been in China anytime since January 2020 or in any affected country in the last 14 days.  On the 18th of March, all schools in the country also closed.

The remoteness of the country and the lack of tourist infrastructure has been a blessing for the country in this situation as it has managed to keep itself free of the virus. It would seem that the island nation has managed to avoid the first wave of the virus

Nauru (0 cases)

Nauru is the smallest island nation in the world. It used to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita before its phosphate deposits were depleted. With only 10,000 residents and very limited visitors, it has a privileged situation of keeping the virus away.

There are still no cases, but the government has declared a national emergency as a preventive measure. Only one flight a week is operating to the country and all arrivals are subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Palau (0 cases)

Palau is a country consisting of over 340 small islands spread on a large area of the Pacific Ocean. It only has a total of 459 Square kilometers of land, in an area covering 600,000 Square kilometers of water. With under 20,000 inhabitants over such a large are, Palau has also been among the fortunate countries to be able to keep the virus at bay. The main island only has just over 10,000 residents and very few visitors, making their situation very similar to Nauru.

The President Thomas Remengesau Jr. issued an executive order beginning February suspending all charter flights from China, Macau, and Hong Kong. After the global spread of the virus, he also shut schools in April and suspended all travel to Palau.

Samoa (0 cases)

The Independent State of Samoa, not to be confused with the American Samoa, a US territory, is a country in the Pacific Ocean consisting of two main islands. Contrary to a lot of the other Oceanian nations, Samoa does have a more significant population at around 200,00 residents.

Despite the larger size than its regional neighbors, the country has managed to stay virus-free. Samoa took drastic measure from early on to avoid the virus landing into the country, including denying entry to some of its own nationals if they had been to countries with the virus, and this as early as the first weeks of February. Travel into Samoa has been increasingly restricted since February. On the 22nd of February the country also banned all cruise ship visits and limiting international flights from March 2nd.

In March several suspected cases of the virus were tested, and the samples sent to New Zealand, but all ended up negative. In the meanwhile, Samoa also closed its border to all but returning citizens and declared a state of Emergency on March 20th. A series of mandatory business closures, social distancing measures and even shipping measures followed the declaration.

On April 11th some measures started to be gradually lifted such as closures, but all distancing requirements stay in place.

Sao Tome and Principe  (16 cases , 1 death)

São Tomé and Principe is an island country off the western coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. With approximately 200,000 inhabitants, the country is not very populous compared to most other African nations, but unfortunately despite a promising virus-free month of March, the first case was reported on April 6th. To date the country now has 16 confirmed cases and unfortunately one death recorded on April 30th.

The government has put in some travel restrictions and quarantining measures, but these have not been effective at fully containing the virus as can be seen in the rise of cases during the month of April.

Solomon Islands (0 cases)

Solomon Islands is a country consisting of 6 larger islands and over 900 smaller islands located to the east of Papua New Guinea. The Solomon Islands have a total population of around 650,000, but except for the capital of Haniara, the Islands are sparsely inhabited and the population density I relatively small.

There have been no confirmed cases on the islands, and the government introduced checks on incoming visitors and restricted travel from impacted countries early on. On March 27th the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare suspended all flights and declared a state of emergency in the capital Honiara as a preventive measure. All entertainment venues were closed on that date, followed by all schools on March 31st.

Tonga (0 cases)

The Kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian country with 36 inhabited islands out of 169 spread over an area of over 700,000 square kilometers.

The Kingdom has managed to keep its 100,000 residents safe from the virus with a series of a precautionary measures limiting travel and quarantining incoming travelers. Cruise ships and yachts have also been banned from docking and on March 27th Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa announced a full lock-down from March 29th to April 5th.

Tuvalu (0 cases)

Tuvalu is a Polynesian country consisting of 3 islands and 6 atolls, with only a total land are of 26 square kilometers and 11,000 inhabitants.

The remoteness and lack of transport links and tourism has kept the country safe from the spread of the virus. They are still currently virus free and some precautionary measures aim to keep it that way. For example, no visitors can enter without a 14-day isolation in a third-party country.

Also on March 26th a general state of emergency was declared preventively.

Vanuatu (0 cases)

Vanuatu is an archipelago of over 82 islands, most of them quite small and spread over a total distance of 1300 kilometers from north to south. Fourteen of the islands do have a land mass of over 100 square kilometers and the total population is around 275,000.

Despite being more reliant on tourism than some of the other Oceanian countries, Vanuatu has managed to not be impacted by the virus to date. There have been no cases on the islands.

Travel restrictions and quarantine measures have contributed at keeping the country virus-free. On March 22nd, Vanuatu’s health authorities confirmed that tests for a resort worker with a suspected case of coronavirus had returned negative keeping the countries virus count at 0.

On 26 March the President Tallis Obed Moses declared a state of emergency in the country and the island of Aneityum was put on full lockdown due to previous visit of a cruise ship passenger that was subsequently tested positive for the virus. Luckily this did not lead to any confirmed cases on the island.

The country has also been struggling to recover from cyclone Harold that made landfall on April 3rd as help to the impacted regions has been limited by restrictions aimed to curb the virus.

With Pacific countries particularly vulnerable in the case of an outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) heads a cooperation strategy between Pacific island nations and their larger and more economically stable neighbors, Australia and New Zealand. Together, they have already produced a Novel Coronavirus Preparedness and Action Report and a six-month Pacific Action Plan. Australia and New Zealand have also began sending supplies to effected countries to treat infected people and are testing suspected cases in Australian labs. 

Outbreak or not, the longevity of the lockdown may be a silent killer in the Pacific. For example, the Achilles heel of tourism in the Pacific is cruises, which took a hit early in the pandemic due to concerns over their ability to infect a large number of people quickly and to move throughout the region. Some tour guides fear that the whole situation may have tarnished cruises beyond this pandemic, and that it may take many years for the industry to recover, and along with it, reliant Pacific economies.

By I. Constantin

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