Outbreaks of Covid in Samoa and Vanuatu further reduced the number of Pacific island nations that have so far avoided a pandemic as the number of cases increases after the first cases of the virus in both countries.
Tuvalu, Nauru and Micronesia are now the only Pacific island countries that have not recorded a single case of the virus, according to the World Health Organization.
Last week, Samoa recorded its first case of infection in the community when an American missionary gave a positive test in preparation for departure. On Wednesday, the country reported another 155 new cases, bringing the total number of current outbreaks to 622, and experts believe the virus probably spread before the first case was detected.
The country has closed its borders and closed, closing schools and banning public gatherings.
In Vanuatu, where the first case of public infection was reported earlier this month, the number has increased from 279 in the past week. reported only on Wednesday, bringing the total since the beginning of the year to 1,373 people. Now the country is at the highest level of readiness, with restrictions on movement and mandatory wearing of masks in public places.
Health expert and dean of the University of Auckland Pacific Dr. Colin Tuquitonga said the Covid surge came as no surprise.
“It’s not unexpected given the spread of Omicron, but it’s good that most islands of the pacific ocean were able to vaccinate people, thus curbing the spread. ”
Vaccination rates vary widely across the Pacific, and some, such as Samoa, where 66% of the population is vaccinated, have relatively high levels of coverage. In others, such as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, rates are much lower, 28% and 17% respectively, according to the WHO.
Acting Director General of Health in Samoa Dr. Tagaloa Robert Thomsen told the media that the health system is ready for an influx of cases.
“In the event that our current capabilities are exhausted, the ministry is stepping up its emergency plan, and we have already identified halls and some school buildings for possible overcrowding,” he said.
Tagaloa told the media that two specialist engineers are quarantined in Samoa to work on setting up a new oxygen plant.
“Our current capacity is 20 to 30 tanks per day, however this new plant will allow us to fill up to 100 or even more per day.”
“Samoa will be prepared for the outbreak in terms of oxygen,” Tagaloa said.
Although the WHO did not register any deaths from Covid in Samoa or Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Daily Post reported that a woman in South Santa who had a major disease and tested positive for Covid died last week.
Social factors increase the risk
Tuquitonga, who has supported Pacific governments in health policy for years, said there are cultural aspects behind the outbreaks.
“Community life and social interactions and large families tend to promote cohesion, but increase the risk of proliferation.”
He said additional factors are poor housing and the high prevalence of comorbidities such as diabetes.
The recent outbreak has caused panic across the Pacific as outbreaks have affected small island nations not previously affected by the pandemic, forcing them to prepare for long periods of blockade, and putting a strain on already fragile public health systems.
The first death from Covid was recorded in Kiribati in January, now the death toll is 13 and the total number of positive cases is 3,057, according to the WHO.
Since the beginning of the year, Palau has recorded nearly 4,000 cases and six deaths. In the Solomon Islands, which also reported the first case of transmission of the virus in the community in January, the highest number of deaths from Covid – 128 with a total of 10,204 cases.
In American Samoa, 1,626 cases have been recorded – 847 in the last week – a large number for an area of just over 55,000 people.
In Tonga, where there has been no Covid so far the virus arrived with the help after a volcanic eruption and a tsunami in January, the number of cases reached 3,784, with just over 1,700 reported in the past seven days.