Delays and uncertainty surround vaccine rollout in PNG
The commencement of vaccinations of frontline health staff in PNG has been delayed. Uncertainty among health workers about taking the vaccine required more awareness raising before administering the AstraZeneca injections could begin.
Meanwhile, the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in PNG has now exceeded 5000. There have been more than 50 deaths recorded as caused by the infection.
Vaccine hesitancy coupled with widespread misinformation about COVID-19 are of significant concern ahead of an anticipated wider vaccination programme. The PNG Defence Force will be deployed to assist with disseminating information.
However, it is still not clear where the required number of vaccines will come from. The government of Australia has yet to convince the European Union to release one million AstraZeneca doses from their contracted allocation. In addition, Canberra has not yet advised if locally produced stocks will be diverted from domestic use to PNG.
Marshall Islands invited to join the Biden Climate Summit
President Biden has invited 40 world leaders to take part in an online climate summit next month. The two-day meeting coincides with Earth Day on April 22nd. According to a White House statement, the US will have issued an “ambitious 2030 emissions target” before then.
Other than Australia and New Zealand, the only member of the Pacific Islands Forum to be invited is President David Kabua of the Republic of Marshall Islands. This has come as a surprise as it was expected that Fiji would be invited. Fiji is a former chair of the Conference of Parties (COP) and is the incoming chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.
It appears that this is a result of an oversight rather than a reflection of concerns about the ongoing tensions within regionalism. However, it is unlikely to assist in terms of calming troubled waters.
The general elections will take place in Samoa on April 9th. With around two weeks to go, campaigning is well underway.
These elections are attracting attention for a number of reasons. The incumbent Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) is used to being returned time after time with little or no difficulty. However, a number of observers are saying that this time things may go differently.
The newly established FAST party is gaining a lot of attention during the campaign period. It is led by the high profile Fiame Naomi Mata’afa. She was formerly the Deputy Prime Minister. The FAST party looks to have a lot of support among the Samoan diaspora, although only those resident in the country are eligible to vote in the elections.
The caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, remains confident of success. He has predicted that his party will secure at least 45 of the 49 seats in contention.
New Zealand looks at supporting vaccinations in Cook Islands
The government of New Zealand has been asked to expedite a vaccination programme in Cook Islands. This is part of preparations for a travel bubble between the two countries. Whilst previously it was hoped that the two-way travel bubble could be in place by the end of March, this will not happen. It is now expected that it can commence in May although no definite start date has been announced.
The Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Mark Brown, is in New Zealand for talks with Prime Minister Ardern and her government. He requested that New Zealand provide Pfizer vaccines for the 17,000 population of his country.
The Chamber of Commerce of Cook Islands has expressed disappointment that there is nothing more definite coming out of the talks as businesses continue to suffer with no tourists travelling to Cook Islands.
Pacific teams make their mark in Australian rugby league competitions
Two teams from the Pacific islands region have taken up residence in Australia to compete in state rugby league competitions.
In Queensland, the PNG SP Hunters have made Runaway Bay their home away from home as they compete in the Intrust Cup. They have taken part in this competition for several years now. They took out the title in 2017 and are hoping for a repeat of that this year.
In New South Wales, the Fiji Kaiviti Silktails are joining the Ron Massey Cup competition for the second year.
Both teams have had to leave families and friends behind to spend the entire season in Australia in order to compete. For all the players, being able to play in these competitions is seen as a potential pathway to spots in the National Rugby League.