The total number of cases of COVID-19 infection listed by the World Health Organisation for the region stands at 426, an increase of 44 since last week. The main contributor to this rise is the increase in infections in Guam.
The factors that make the Pacific resistant to infection – remoteness, scattered populations and the high cost of travel and transportation – are the very same elements driving the region deeper into economic distress.
These factors have been holding back development gains for decades. And even if it never lands on their shores, COVID-19 will further constrain livelihoods and development opportunities in Pacific nations for years.
Fiji and Papua New Guinea, with their relatively sizeable populations and economies, are the most visibly affected.
One NGO estimates that half of all Fijians are facing “severe” financial distress. A major resort in Fiji has announced that nearly 500 staff will be made redundant as of next month.
The reserve bank has predicted a contraction of 21.7% in the country’s economy, driven largely by the drop-off in tourist arrivals as a result of COVID-19 impacts.
In what may be a backhanded admission that tourism is not coming back any time soon, the Fijian government announced a ‘PayNowStayLater’ digital platform that would provide a room at a future date in exchange for cash today.
The fact that the government is either unwilling or unable to inject cash of its own is cause for concern.
There are some tough decisions to be made in the coming weeks and months. But it’s not clear there exists the political will to make them.
Please click here to read the full “Coronavirus in the Pacific: weekly briefing” article published at Guardian, written by Griffith Asia Institute, adjunct researcher, Tess Newton Cain and Dan McGarry.