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Explained: How some Pacific nations have held off COVID-19, but are still at risk

Coronavirus Several of the countries in the Pacific Ocean have densely populated areas, making the enforcement of social distancing measures difficult.

By: Express Explained | New Delhi | Updated: April 6, 2020 11:29:49 am
Explained: How some Pacific nations have held off COVID-19, but are still at risk Even in the wider Pacific region, the spread of the virus still remains low, with 22 island nations and territories having detected only 119 cases as of April 1, according to Al Jazeera. (File Photo)

With the novel coronavirus reaching all continents but Antarctica, there still remain a number of island countries in the Pacific Ocean where the pandemic is yet to hit.

According to a BBC report, as of April 2, Comoros, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu had not reported any COVID-19 cases.

Even in the wider Pacific region, the spread of the virus still remains low, with 22 island nations and territories having detected only 119 cases as of April 1, according to Al Jazeera.

How have some Pacific nations managed to hold out?

After the novel coronavirus outbreak was reported in China, many Pacific nations were swift to enact measures to prevent its reach to their shores, much before its declaration as a pandemic by the WHO on March 11.

In January itself, Micronesia stopped allowing travellers from countries having confirmed cases, and Papua New Guinea banned all incoming air travel from Asia. The latter also sealed its land border with Indonesia.

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According to a report in The Economist, cruise ships were banned in Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

On March 1, Samoa made a medical examination compulsory for travellers who wanted to enter.

On March 9, the Marshall Islands put into effect a “total suspension” of international travellers, sealing itself off.

Later in March, national emergencies were declared in countries including Nauru, Kiribati, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

Coronavirus: Why countries in the Pacific Ocean are still at risk

Although the countries’ geographic isolation has so far come to their rescue, it would be difficult to imagine them holding out indefinitely, says the Economist report.

Many have porous borders, and being seafaring nations, there remains a chance of them importing the virus.

Several of these countries have densely populated areas, making the enforcement of social distancing measures difficult. Many also lack robust healthcare systems, putting them at a heightened level of threat if community transmission begins.

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Pacific island nations are also known to have high rates of noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes and heart conditions. As COVID-19 affects those with underlying conditions more acutely, this places Pacific Islanders at an additional disadvantage.

The economic toll due to the global pandemic is also especially precarious for this region, as many countries rely heavily on imports and have the tourism sector among its top employers. Supply chains have already been disrupted, and the vanishing of tourists has spelt serious economic turmoil.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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