Fiji struggles to manage the latest COVID-19 outbreak
In Fiji, the number of cases of COVID-19 infections is rising. As of Monday evening, there were 267 active cases recorded in the country, with more than 20 new cases identified in the preceding 24 hours.
Despite this the government has announced a partial relaxation of containment provisions. This will allow for greater movement between communities and the re-opening of some businesses. These moves are to allow for greater economic activity in order that people can provide for themselves and their families. The Attorney-General, Aiyez Sayed-Khaiyoum, has said that he does not believe that lockdowns are appropriate for developing countries.
Medical authorities have said they are particularly concerned about funerals acting as super-spreader events. This is after reports that 50 members of the navy travelled across containment lines to attend a funeral. A significant cluster of COVID-19 cases looks to be associated with this.
New Secretary-General commences work
Henry Puna has commenced work as Secretary-General at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Owing to the COVID-19 outbreak in Fiji and associated travel restrictions, he is currently working remotely from New Zealand.
Puna was elected to this position in February amid a great deal of controversy and rancour, with four members of the Pacific Islands Forum having subsequently activated processes to leave the grouping.
In his first statement, SG Puna has emphasised the importance of the Forum working together as a family, saying “our Blue Pacific Continent is at its best and its strongest when our member nations work together as a family, and we must continue to do all we can to protect that strength”.
He also paid tribute to his predecessor, Dame Meg Taylor, and referred to the political tensions in Samoa, asking people of the Pacific to keep Samoans in their thoughts and prayers.
Communist Party of China convenes virtual dialogue with Pacific leaders
Senior members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have met in a virtual dialogue with Pacific leaders. The Pacific leaders included several Prime Ministers and other senior officials from those countries that have diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China.
The meeting comes ahead of next month’s centenary of the founding of the CPC.
During the dialogue, Pacific leaders heard a message from President Xi Jinping. President Xi’s letter was conveyed to them by Minister Song Tao, who presided over the meeting. Song Tao is Minister of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the CPC.
The dialogue comes further to two in person meetings between Xi Jinping and Pacific leaders in 2014 and 2018.
At the dialogue, there was mutual agreement about further development of the Belt and Road Initiative in the region, with a particular focus on infrastructure.
Ongoing political tensions in Samoa
The political impasse in Samoa has yet to be resolved.
On Monday the Court of Appeal convened to hear an appeal against the decision of the Supreme Court to overrule the appointment of a sixth female MP by the Electoral Commissioner. Meanwhile, hundreds of people, many of them women marched in support of the appointment of the sixth female MP to the Parliament.
If the appeal is successful, HRPP and FAST will have 26 MPs each, creating a hung Parliament and possibly prompting new elections. If the appeal fails then FAST will have a majority of one. Both party leaders have indicated that they will accept the Court’s ruling, which is expected to be handed down later this week.
Meanwhile, the Attorney-General of Samoa has filed an application to the Supreme Court to have the swearing-in of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and the FAST MPs ruled unconstitutional.
Pacific work a focus of Ardern-Morrison talks
Thanks to the trans-Tasman bubble the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia have been able to meet in person.
During the two days of talks that were held in Queenstown, the Pacific islands region was an area of focus for the two leaders whose countries are the largest economies in the Pacific Islands Forum.
Their joint communiqué made particular mention of the importance of a united Pacific Islands Forum as a mechanism for a collective international voice. They also made reference to the security challenges facing the region as identified in the Boe Declaration in 2018.
In terms of the impacts of COVID-19, the leaders confirmed that their countries will support Pacific partners in terms of vaccination programmes and economic recovery.