COVID-19 across the region

COVID-19 continues to spread in Solomon Islands and threatens to overwhelm the country’s health services. Authorities have reported that one in two people in the capital, Honiara, are showing symptoms. However, a lack of systematic testing makes it impossible to know how many people have been infected.

In Kiribati, the lockdown that was introduced recently has been extended by a further two weeks. Restrictions on domestic travel have led to food shortages on the outer islands of the country.

In Vanuatu, the resumption of repatriation flights was followed by four positive cases being detected in quarantine. This number has grown to eight, including a frontline worker who is now in quarantine, along with identified close contacts.

In Tonga, lockdown restrictions are to be relaxed. There are 196 active cases in the kingdom. However, there is very high vaccination coverage in Tonga with 90% of the population having received two doses.

Further twists in the PIF split saga

Last week’s shock announcement by the President of the Federated States of Micronesia that Henry Puna was to step down as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat seems to have set a cat among the pigeons in various parts of the region.

There has been nothing said by Mr Puna further to David Panuelo’s comments to Radio Australia. In the absence of PM Bainimarama of Fiji, who is the Chair of the PIF, the acting PM, Attorney-General Khaiyum, issued a statement in which he made a pointed reference to “the sensitivities and fluidity of the ongoing political process”. This was a clear signal that the deal was not yet done and that Panuelo may have spoken too soon.

This was confirmed later in the week by PM Mark Brown of Cook Islands who dismissed any suggestion that Puna would be leaving his position as Secretary-General.

Disaster impacts in Tonga

A rapid assessment of the impacts of last month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga estimates the economic damage done to be US$90 million, with 85% of the population affected in some way. This initial assessment does not allow for longer-term impacts such as downturns in tourism and agriculture.

The tourism sector was affected by the tsunami with several properties being badly damaged or destroyed altogether. In relation to agriculture, most of the damage was done by the huge amounts of volcanic ash that fell across the country. However, root crops seem to have fared better than other produce.

The World Bank has said that it will take Tonga a long time to recover economically from these disasters and has already provided financial support in the immediate term. However, looking to the future, the Tongan government may need to make some difficult decisions as to how recovery should be financed.

Pacific injections into two sporting codes in Australia

(Guest contributor: Lachlan Cain)

With the 2022 rugby league season about to start, two Pacific teams will play in Australia’s second division. The PNG Hunters return to the Queensland Intrust Super Cup. Meanwhile, the Fiji Silktails are a new addition to the New South Wales Knock-On Effect Cup. They will play a pre-season game against the Hunters – the Melanesia Bowl – in preparation for a season that will hopefully not suffer too much COVID-19 related disruption.

Two new teams join the trans-Tasman rugby union competition, making it Super Rugby Pacific. Fiji Drua and Pasifika Moana (Tonga/Samoa) join five Australian teams and five New Zealand teams. In the first round, Fiji Drua lost 40-10 to NSW, while Pasifika Moana has yet to get going due to COVID issues.

One thing all the teams won’t have to worry about is the support they will get. Their presence will be a source of joy and pride to many Pacific people living in Australia


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