COVID-19 numbers in PNG rise

In Papua New Guinea, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen to 67. There are over 40 active cases in Port Moresby, where the capacity of the isolation facilities at the Rita Flynn centre is capped at just over 70. Increased testing and contact tracing is now underway, with the expectation that the numbers will rise.

The Controller of the State of Emergency, Police Commissioner David Manning, has introduced new control measures. They include the mandatory use of face masks in Port Moresby. He has not ruled out a full lock down of the city.

The government has authorised the WHO to put out a call for international emergency medical teams to deploy to Papua New Guinea to provide support to the health and medical systems there. At Port Moresby General Hospital and elsewhere it appears that the impacts of COVID-19 are adding to many pre-existing public health challenges.

Vanuatu celebrates 40 years of independence

In Vanuatu, people are making the most of their country’s COVID-free status to celebrate 40 years of independence. The actual anniversary falls on July 30. However, festivities got underway with a huge ‘Victory March’ through the streets of Port Vila on July 23. The crowd was in excess of 10,000 people and was the largest such gathering that the country has seen. There were more celebrations the following day to mark Children’s Day.

The government has been criticised by the business community for granting a number of extra public holidays. This comes at a time when the economy is feeling the negative impacts of border closures and a near total shutdown of the tourism industry. Not only that but many in the northern part of the country are still recovering from the damage and destruction caused by the passage of Tropical Cyclone Harold in April.

Pacific voices address the UN Security Council

Pacific representatives have addressed the United Nations Security Council’s High Level Open Debate on Climate and security held recently.

HE Samuelu Laloniu, Permanent Representative of Tuvalu to the United Nations spoke on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum. He restated that climate change poses the greatest threat to the “livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific”. His Excellency referred the Council to the contents of the Boe Declaration of 2018 and the Kainaki II Declaration of 2019. He reiterated the priority that needs to be given to mitigating the effects of climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr Satyendra Prasad spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Bainimarama. He argued that the security implications of climate change were yet to be systematically explored by the United Nations.

Solomon Islands maintains commitment to Pacific Games

Prime Minister Sogavare has maintained his government’s commitment to host the next edition of the Pacific games, scheduled to take place in 2023.

The impacts of COVID-19 have delayed the start of major infrastructure projects to support the event. However, Sogavare is confident his team will be able to deliver on time. He reiterated his government’s commitment to this ‘flagship project’ whilst opening the Pacific Games Office in Honiara.

The Sogavare government has secured support from numerous development partners, including Australia, Japan, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. The largest contribution of US$100 million has been pledged by the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government has appointed Central South Architect Design Institute (CSADI) to design and manage the delivery of the national stadium and six other sports facilities. It is the largest development cooperation project that China has undertaken in the Pacific islands region.

Tonga seeks debt relief from China

The government of Tonga has made representations to the government of China about providing debt relief. This comes in the wake of severe economic downturn as COVID-19 impacts affect tourism and the flow of remittances to the country.

There are reports that the government has sought to have substantial loans from Beijing cancelled but these are yet to be confirmed. This type of request has been made previously and has not been successful. However, China has given some reprieve by allowing Tonga to defer when repayments of loans should start.

The budget that was recently handed down by the government of Tonga shows that loan repayments to the EXIM Bank of China are set to escalate in the 2023-24 year rising to 15 per cent of revenue based on current forecasts. The International Monetary Fund has previously classified Tonga as being at high risk of debt distress as compared with other countries in the region.

AUTHOR

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