Cyclone Niran batters New Caledonia
Tropical Cyclone Niran has caused extensive damage in New Caledonia. The cyclone made landfall during Sunday. Although it was not as powerful as had been initially expected, its impact was still significant.
One injury has been reported and there has been extensive damage to buildings with numerous rooves having been damaged or blown off. Thousands of homes were left without power, and hundreds of people took shelter in evacuation centres.
Recovery efforts are likely to be hampered by the country having been placed in a full lockdown after nine cases of COVID-19 were detected in the community.
TC Niran’s effects were also felt in Vanuatu where there were high winds and significant sea swells. One of the last remaining boats from the Pacific war, MV Betsy Ross was seen to be taking on water and it is not clear whether efforts to salvage her were successful.
Gloves come off in Samoan politics
As next month’s elections approach, the political climate in Samoa is increasingly tense.
As Parliament was about to be dissolved, the Prime Minister announced a Commission of Inquiry into alleged breaches of the parliamentary standing orders and what he described as ‘treasonous’ actions on the part of four MPs. They are all members of the FAST party, who are expected to mount a serious challenge during the elections. The Prime Minister’s concerns appear to relate to the MPs having missed the last sessions of Parliament in order to spend time in their electorates as well as things they are alleged to have said at public political meetings.
The former deputy PM, now a member of FAST, is Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and is one of the four MPs the PM has censured. She has dismissed the call for a Commission of Inquiry as a ‘bit of an election ploy’.
Numbers of COVID-19 infections are continuing to rise in Papua New Guinea, raising significant concerns about the availability of sufficient resources within the health system should community transmission really take hold. The number of confirmed deaths from the disease now stands at 16.
In Bougainville, where there has also been a spike in case numbers, the government is contemplating a 14-day lockdown for Buka in an attempt to limit further spread.
Two new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Vanuatu. They were identified in quarantine as part of routine testing and will be transferred to an isolation unit at Vila Central Hospital.
Meanwhile, Fiji has become the first Pacific island country to take delivery of the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine via the COVAX facility. A batch of 20,000 vaccinations arrived on Saturday night. The administration of the vaccine will start midweek.
Concerns about Fiji draft police bill
Proposed new legislation that addresses police powers has aroused concerns in Fiji. The current Police Act dates from 1965 and is no doubt overdue for an update.
Among civil society and the Parliamentary Opposition numerous voices have raised concerns about new powers which some have described as draconian in nature.
Biman Prasad, leader of the National Federation Party, says that some of the proposed powers could be used to undermine civil society and political opposition.
The Bill provides for a range of new powers, including the ability to seize computers or other electronic devices without a warrant.
The Bill is now undergoing a period of public consultation. The consultation process has been supported with funding from UNDP and the Government of New Zealand. This has also drawn criticism from some quarters, including those who point to ongoing problems with human rights abuses within the Fiji police force.
Queensland government fast tracks vaccines into the Torres Strait
The government of Queensland has announced that it will fast track the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations on the islands closest to Papua New Guinea. This comes amid rising concerns about the growing number of confirmed cases in PNG.
Since the onset of COVID-19 movements across the border have been prohibited and there have been increased patrols of the Torres Strait by Australian Border Force to enforce those restrictions. However, there have been a number of cases imported into Queensland via charter flights transferring Australian workers in and out of the Ok Tedi mine in PNG’s Western Province. Those flights have now been suspended for two weeks.
The islands of Boigu, Saibai and Badu are closest to the Papua New Guinea border and will be the focus of the vaccination rollout. The AstraZeneca virus will be utilised as it is easier to manage in remote areas. In addition to frontline workers, all those aged over 18 will be offered the vaccination.
Tess Newton Cain is the project lead for the Pacific Hub at the Griffith Asia Institute