COVID-19 surge in New Caledonia highlights risks to Pacific island countries

A rapid surge in COVID-19 cases in New Caledonia has seen the number of infections climb to nearly 1000. The French territory has also recorded its first death since the start of the pandemic.

This highlights the importance of vaccination for other Pacific island countries, including those that are currently “COVID free”. It is clear that the current rollouts are going too slowly and there is still too much hesitancy among populations. In Vanuatu, the President has used an address to the assembly of the Presbyterian Church to urge for congregations and their leaders to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, PNG has transferred 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca to Vietnam via the COVAX facility. The vaccinations were close to their expiry date and levels of vaccinations are still so low in PNG that it could not be guaranteed that they would be used.

Parliament to sit in Samoa but turmoil persists

The Parliament of Samoa is sitting this week. It is the first time that the Parliament has convened since the elections in April that were followed by a long political tussle.

Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa took her place as leader of the Government along with the MPs of the FAST party who were sworn in under a tent in the parliamentary grounds on May 24th.

However, the Speaker of the House, Papalii Lio Masipau, informed the leader of the Opposition, Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi, that the unsworn members of the HRPP party will not be sworn in.

On arrival at Parliament on Tuesday, Tuila’epa and the other HRPP MPs were met by a police cordon and told that they were not permitted to enter the parliamentary precinct. They gathered under a nearby breadfruit tree whilst the FAST MPs tabled a budget in the chamber.

Australia and Indonesia plan for trilateral Pacific cooperation

The Australian and Indonesian Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence have met in Jakarta.

During the meeting the Ministers “committed to enhanced trilateral cooperation with Pacific nations through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Trilateral Cooperation with the Pacific”.

No details have been provided as to what this trilateral cooperation will look like.

The Ministers also committed to increased military cooperation between the two countries, including the provision of fifteen bushmaster vehicles by Australia to the Indonesian defence forces

Australia’s deepening ties with Indonesia will cause concern for some in the Pacific islands region. This stems from Pacific concerns about the human rights situation in West Papua. In 2019, the Pacific Islands Forum leaders called for Indonesia to facilitate a visit to West Papua by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This has yet to eventuate.

New Zealand recommits to a one-way travel bubble for Pacific workers

Authorities in New Zealand have confirmed that a one-way travel bubble for Pacific workers will commence in October. The arrangement had originally been intended to begin this month. It was delayed following an outbreak of COVID-19 in New Zealand.

The travel bubble is available to people from Vanuatu, Samoa, and Tonga who are travelling to take up roles within the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. They are needed to fill critical shortages in the viticulture and horticulture sectors.

To access this travel bubble, workers will have to have received at least one vaccination dose prior to departure. This is likely to put pressure on health authorities in sending countries in terms of both vaccine supply and logistical resources. In recognition of this, New Zealand authorities have undertaken to ensure that workers receive their second dose of vaccination whilst they are working there.


Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute and project lead of the Pacific Hub.