TESS NEWTON CAIN AND DAN MCGARRY |
There have only been five new cases of coronavirus confirmed in the Pacific this week – all of which were in Guam – bringing the regional total to around 260. This figure excludes cases among US sailors infected on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently docked in Guam, and cases in West Papua, which has been excluded due to our lack of confidence in the data.
With infection rates slowing throughout the Pacific islands as well as in Australia and New Zealand, talk has begun to turn to exit strategies. Public health officials and politicians are keeping a close watch on Papua New Guinea, fearing a widespread outbreak there, but elsewhere the talk is about how to begin restarting economies and opening borders.
Among the options being discussed is the idea of a trans-Tasman bubble. Arguing that New Zealand and Australia are “beating the crap” out of the virus, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister, Winston Peters, has touted the idea of renewed travel to and from Australia.
Many are already lobbying for the Pacific to be included in the “bubble” if and when it should happen, though any benefits of reopening travel to these nations would have to be weighed against the health risks to the region.
Pacific economies continue to suffer. French Polynesia fears that its economy may have lost US$1.2bn, along with 25,000 jobs. In Solomon Islands, a major project to upgrade the international airport is in limbo and the government fears it may have to be terminated with the key personnel having left the country because of Covid-19 fears.