The increasing number of cases in the provinces of Papua and West Papua in Indonesia raises concerns, and international responses in the Pacific region have increased, Hugh McClure wrote.
For many parts of the Pacific Islands, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), and New Caledonia, it has now been more than a month since new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed.
The following is a snapshot of the policy response to COVID-19 in the Pacific region, right at 12:00 noon AEST, May 26, 2020.
The Week in Review
Last week there was an increase in COVID-19 positive cases reported in Guam, which recorded a surge of 11 new cases on May 20, bringing the total to 166 positive COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has recorded 22nd case.
The number of cases reported in Indonesia’s West Papua province has reached 130 this week, while several sources indicate that neighboring Papua province can have as many as 686 cases.
29 cases of COVID-19 were found in French Polynesia waters aboard an Ecuadorian fishing vessel this week.
While the ship has been anchored in an uninhabited bay for a month, there are concerns about the presence of the virus on other fishing vessels operating in the Pacific. With local doctors used to test all sailors aboard, there is concern that the movement of such vessels may be the source of a new COVID-19 wave in the Pacific.
For policy makers throughout the Pacific region, but especially in PNG, the situation in the provinces of Papua and West Papua in Indonesia is a cause for serious concern. With cases that continue to increase exponentially every week, local authorities in PNG’s border provinces in Western and West Sepik provinces are harboring concerns about the potential for disease to spread to their communities, as illegal border crossings continue.
Meanwhile, restrictions were gradually lifted on PNG with passenger flights to Bougainville resuming this week.
As a big political star erupted in Port Moresby this week after former Prime Minister O’Neill arrested and charged by the police over alleged official corruption, the Opposition increasingly voiced concerns over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by Prime Minister Marape, who indicated that they would not support any extension to Emergency Status after 2 June.
The broader Pacific regional response was at the forefront this week, with the World Health Organization and the Pacific Islands Forum collaborating to send medical supplies to various countries, with assistance reaching Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and Tonga.
Australia has increased its development assistance, announcing $ 100 million this week to support the Pacific COVID-19 response. While PNG will receive more than one fifth of this funding, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu will each receive support between $ 3 million and $ 13 million.
Australia has also expressed its support for Fiji to join the Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble and further detailing visa extensions for Pacific Season Workers Program participants to remain in Australia on visas that are extended for up to 12 months.
American Samoa this week received a $ 24 million stimulus from the US government to support economic growth. Meanwhile, the US Secretary of Education has announced major investments to help schools respond to physical distance in the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Palau, and American Samoa.
As donations have flowed into the Pacific region, the limited health capacity in the Pacific is becoming clearer as countries seek to make changes to improve their long-term health capabilities. In the Solomon Islands, the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services said that his ministry was able to identify gaps that needed to be strengthened in the country’s health system as a result of the 36 hour locking trial that occurred last week.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Marape has outlined that regional health capacity will be the focus of his government’s investment in the PNG health system, with an ongoing focus on decentralizing services in the country. As part of the investment, the prime minister has launched plans to build hospitals in 22 provinces, and an upgraded referral hospital in Port Moresby.
See the complete dataset compiled by Australia Pacific Security College here.
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