Covid-19 takes hold in the Pacific

By Stephen Howes and Sherman Surandiran

For a long time, the health narrative around Covid-19 in the island nations of the Pacific and Timor-Leste was quite positive. Yes, the economic costs of the pandemic were substantial, but the number of cases was low. Not anymore. The four countries most affected are Guam, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Timor-Leste and Fiji.

Guam, a territory of the United States, witnessed a surge in cases between August and November 2020 but since then has been able to contain the number of new infections.

Case numbers took off in PNG in March 2021, climbing from a cumulative case total of 1,670 as of March 8 to 16,682 as of June 13, a tenfold increase over three months.

In Timor-Leste, between 13 April and 13 June this year, the number of cumulative cases went up from 1,074 to 8,285 – an eightfold increase in just two months.

The most recent country to experience an outbreak is Fiji. In the 10 days preceding 13 June 2021, the cumulative number of cases more than doubled from 536 to 1,118.

Other Pacific countries remain relatively unaffected, with just 30 recorded cases, the most recent in Kiribati on May 21, 2021.