Coronavirus in the Pacific: weekly briefing | World news

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The total number of cases of Covid-19 infection listed by the World Health Organization for the region stands at 382, an increase of 22 since last week.

With increasing evidence that many of the world’s worst-affected nations are either unprepared or unwilling to fight the virus, it’s clear that Pacific islanders will be living with Covid-19 on their borders for years to come. Despite this, countries have been slow to adapt.

Tourism-reliant nations are instead focusing on finding ways to restart the industry as it was before the pandemic. Others simply languish. Despite imminent labour shortages in the agricultural sector in New Zealand and Australia, little progress has been made to safely replace thousands of repatriated workers.

Pacific islanders working in the US appear to be more exposed to Covid-19 than most other ethnicities. A large number of them report at least one family member who is an essential worker, and many of them live and/or work in crowded conditions.

Chronic trade imbalances plaguing Pacific economies are worsened by reduced traffic flows. This is raising prices and exacerbating poverty, especially in the region’s urban centres. A survey conducted by Pacific Trade and Invest reports that just over a quarter of businesses in the region may not survive the economic downturn.

Fiji’s “billionaire bubble” has attracted at least 30 “high-value” individuals from one US company. But the country’s efforts to establish itself as a safe gateway to neighbouring nations in what it calls a Pacific pathway have been received coolly by Samoa’s prime minister.

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A wide-ranging report released by the Fiji Civil Society Organisations Alliance details significant rises in sexual and domestic violence, food prices and theft from food gardens.

But Fiji is not alone. Papua New Guinea’s National Research Institute has lauded the government’s swift imposition of a state of emergency but warns that travel restrictions have limited or even blocked access to necessary goods and services. It warns of severe impacts on food supply.

As in all crises, it’s the most vulnerable who suffer most acutely.

Pacific communities are resilient. Traditional and customary systems of exchange and mutual support have come to the fore, but urban populations especially are increasingly under stress.




Police officers on duty in Kokopo, East New Britain, during Papua New Guinea’s state of emergency



Police officers on duty in Kokopo, East New Britain, during Papua New Guinea’s state of emergency. New cases Port Moresby have raised fears of reimposed restrictions Photograph: Kalo Fainu/The Guardian

What has happened this week?

Papua New Guinea: After weeks without any new reports, the country tallied three cases in rapid succession, raising the total to 11. At least some of thesewere transmitted locally, according to the police commissioner, who admonished residents undertaking risky activities.

Guam: The US air force is investigating whether members of a newly deployed unit broke quarantine before an outbreak of 35 new cases within its ranks.

US: As of 18 June, 20 Marshallese people living in north-west Arkansas have died of Covid-19: 12 men and eight women. Pacific islanders account for half of all fatalities in that area but only a tiny percentage of the overall population.

West Papua: The Jakarta Post reports 1,932 confirmed cases in the Papuan provinces and 10 deaths as of 28 June. A human rights organisation reports that travel restrictions have been used by Indonesian security forces as an excuse for aggression against innocent individuals.

Bougainville: Traders who consider themselves to be “traditional border crossers” have called for restrictions on their movements to be eased as it is affecting their ability to keep their businesses alive.

French Pacific Territories: There have been two new infections recorded in French Polynesia. Both patients tested positive at the end of their quarantine period having tested negative before their departure from France.

Fiji: Churches and schools have reopened. More than 160 members of Fiji’s military have arrived home, four months after their UN peacekeeping deployment ended.

Tonga: A second drill was held last week as the country prepared for the arrival of 50 returnees. Thousands more remain overseas with no clear indication of when they’ll be allowed home.

Samoa: Ships have resumed sailing between Apia and Pago Pago in American Samoa but only for cargo transport.

Vanuatu: The New Zealand air force has repatriated more than 1,000 seasonal workers.

Marshall Islands: Essential personnel will be allowed to travel to the US army base on Kwajalein Atoll, subject to a three-week quarantine period and a series of at least four Covid-19 tests.

Palau: A deployment of 100 US soldiers are going to Palau to undertake a humanitarian mission. Research from the Graduate School USA’s economic monitoring and analysis program predicts a 22.3% decline in GDP and job losses in excess of 3,000.

Frank Bainimarama
(@FijiPM)

So, say you’re a billionaire looking to fly your own jet, rent your own island, and invest millions of dollars in Fiji in the process–– if you’ve taken all the necessary health precautions and borne all associated costs, you may have a new home to escape the pandemic in paradise. pic.twitter.com/IA82ndq2hc

June 24, 2020

What are Pacific governments doing?

Papua New Guinea: The prime minister, James Marape, has promised that there will be government support for the small and medium businesses. Citing concerns for key resource extraction projects, Marape indicated that his government would loosen business and travel restrictions in unaffected areas of the country and allow entry to international investors.

Bougainville: The police chief, Francis Tokura, announced that the state of emergency would be extended for another month. It is now scheduled to end 14 August. Voting in the autonomous territory’s general election will run from 12 August to 1 September.

Fiji: Dr James Fong, acting permanent secretary of the health ministry, has called for the country’s borders to be reopened to tourists and said there were concerns that the ongoing socioeconomic impacts of the shutdown will have major and lasting effects, including an increased numbers of deaths, although not from Covid-19.

Vanuatu: After completion of the first phase of repatriation, which saw some 1,500 people return home, the government has announced that the next phase will not begin until August.There’s no plan to restart its seasonal worker programmes in New Zealand and Australia, which employed thousands.

Tonga: The ADB has approved US$12.2m in grants to assist the country in coping with the Covid-19 crisis.

Solomon Islands: The Asian Development Bank last week approved a US$20m funding package – half in grants, half in concessional loans.

Kiribati: Arguing that the nation faces a double health crisis, the government is encouraging people to rely more on local produce and less on processed foods, which are responsible for unreasonably high rates of non-communicable diseases among its population.

Federated States of Micronesia: Health workers in Pohnpei are running drills to prepare for the first repatriation flights, scheduled to begin on 27 July.

Australia and New Zealand

Thanks mainly to a spike in community transmission in Victoria, the number of confirmed cases in Australia has risen to 7,767, an increase of 126 since last week. One of those cases is a defence force officer who was flown to Queensland after testing positive in Port Moresby. There have been 104 deaths.

In New Zealand the number of confirmed cases is 1,178, up by 15 since last week. The number of deaths remains unchanged at 22. New Zealand has indicated it is open to assisting with repatriation of Samoan seafarers stranded in the US.

What did they say?




Shamima Ali



Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre. Photograph: Sheldon Chanel/The Guardian


A lot of people are surviving because of the love that we have for each other, but how long is that going to last? We are all in the same storm but we are not all in the same boat. Some are sailing smoothly through, some are in the choppy waters and drowning.

Shamima Ali, Fiji Women’s Crisis Center

Good news




World Cup dreaming: girls playing football in Auckland. Australia and New Zealand have won the right to co-host the women’s World Cup in 2023



World Cup dreaming: girls playing football in Auckland. Australia and New Zealand have won the right to co-host the women’s World Cup in 2023. Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Players and fans of women’s football across the Pacific have something positive to focus on thanks to the announcement that Australia and New Zealand will co-host the World Cup finals in 2023. Given that the hosting nations will each automatically qualify, this means that there will be at least one Pacific islands team included, as the winner of the Oceania group.

It’s unclear whether other places will be available due to the expansion of the competition to 32 teams. For now, training and playing can only take place on home soil but, if and when travel restrictions are eased, some keenly contested international fixtures are expected.

Infection and fatality figures in this article are valid as of 30 June. They are based on WHO daily situation reports, and supplemented in some cases by national government updates.

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