Pacific countries brace for COVID-19 impacts

Pacific countries are bracing for the impacts of COVID-19. The number of confirmed cases in the Pacific has increased to six with three in each of French Polynesia and Guam. Several countries have significantly strengthened their border control measures. In Vanuatu, there is a blanket ban on overseas travel by public servants. Marshall Islands has cancelled all flights in and out of the country for a period of two weeks. The health impacts of outbreaks in Pacific island countries are likely to be very significant. Health systems are under-resourced and in several places populations are already dealing with the burden of the NCD crisis. The effects of self-isolation orders for travellers who are returning to Australia and New Zealand will have serious impacts on those Pacific countries that are tourist destinations. In some countries a collapse in the tourism sector will lead to significant job losses and a reduction in government revenue.

New Zealand moves to protect the Pacific from COVID-19

New Zealand has included measures to protect the Pacific in its latest travel restrictions. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced at the weekend that anyone entering New Zealand will be required to self-isolate for a period of 14 days. This does not apply to people travelling from most Pacific island countries. She also announced measures that are specifically designed to protect Pacific island countries from the spread of the disease. These include not allowing anyone who has arrived from a non-Pacific island country within 14 days to travel into the region from New Zealand. There will also be pre-departure health checks at airports with anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms being prevented from boarding. In Australia, authorities have advised that all non-essential overseas travel should be cancelled.

Fiji minister sacked

A minister in Fiji’s government has been sacked. Ashneel Sudhakar had been instructed to stand down by the Fiji First Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama. However, when he refused to resign, the PM was forced to sack him. The request for him to resign followed allegations of sexual harassment that were made against him by a female lawyer in Fiji. The Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyoum, said that these latest allegations were part of what was considered to be a pattern of behaviour. Last week, the Fiji First party commenced disciplinary proceedings against Mr Sudhakar, who had been serving as the Minister for Lands. However, Sudhakar has now resigned from the party. His seat in the parliament is now vacant. The Electoral Commission is expected to make an announcement on who will replace him as an MP. The PM is expected to announce a ministerial replacement in the coming days.

Bougainville oversight body meets

The joint oversight body for Bougainville has met for the first time since last year’s referendum on independence. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a framework for consultations to develop proposals for the future of Bougainville to go before the parliament of Papua New Guinea. The referendum in November saw an overwhelming vote in favour of independence. However, under the terms of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, this result has to be ratified by the PNG Parliament. The meeting in Arawa resolved to change the name of this joint body from the Joint Supervisory Body to the Joint Consultative Body (JCB) The JCB has resolved to convene an economic summit to be held in Bougainville later this year. The current president of Bougainville, John Momis, raised the issue of the meaning of ‘ratification’. The justice ministers of the two governments will work together to determine what this term means to inform the future work of the JCB.

Porgera massacre sees several left dead

A massacre at Porgera in the Enga province of PNG has left at least nine people dead, including three children. The victims were from the neighbouring province of Hela. These latest killings are part of an ongoing tribal conflict over land. In July last year 18 people were killed in Hela in an incident that shocked many. There has been an increase in the police presence in the region and the local commander says that the situation is now under control, although tensions remain high. Authorities often struggle to maintain sufficient resources to ensure security in remote part parts of Papua New Guinea. Recent reports of a group of worshippers having been killed in a remote part of Enga have not been confirmed. Scott Waide of EMTV has covered the background to the clashes. He reports that the latest incident brings the death toll to 23 this month.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.