Violence in Papua New Guinea
Authorities and community leaders are working to contain outbreaks of serious violence in PNG. In Alotau, in Milne Bay province. A spate of attacks on businesses and police presence have led to calls for a state of emergency to be declared. There have also been calls for the provincial governor, John Luke Crittin to stand down. Many in the community are disappointed at the lack of leadership he has shown.
Meanwhile in Port Moresby, authorities are also considering declaring a state of emergency. This follows a number of violent clashes between rival ethnic groups in the capital. The tension was sparked by the murder of a man from Goilala, which was captured on CCTV. The video was then shared on social media. Around 400 people from Gorobe settlement took refuge at Murray Barracks in fear of retaliation.
COVID-19 outbreak continues in Fiji
In Fiji the authorities are continuing to address an outbreak of COVID-19. There has been an increase of testing along with a strict lockdown, which was lifted on Tuesday. However, the use of containment areas in much of the country means that Fijians are still very much confined to home.
Fiji now has 51 active cases confirmed. All those infected are in isolation. Of these, 16 are in border quarantine and 31 are locally transmitted. Authorities remain concerned that more cases may yet be identified and have stressed the need for people to follow COVID-safe practices.
Over the weekend a government hotline that was set up for people to request emergency food packages was overrun with requests. There has been very heavy rain in parts of the country leading to flash flooding in places. This is hampering authorities in dealing with the COVID situation.
Killing of prominent human rights defender shocks region
In Tonga, the violent killing of Polikalepo Kefu has sent shockwaves through the community and across the region. Mr Kefu worked with the Red Cross and local media. He was a prominent human rights activist and has been praised for his advocacy by many across the Pacific.
Mr Kefu was the President of Leitis in Waiting – a well-known group that advocates for LGBTQI issues in Tonga and elsewhere.
A man has been arrested in Tonga in connection with Mr Kefu’s death. He has been charged with murder and remanded in custody pending a court appearance. Police have cautioned the community against spreading false or misleading information about the incident on social media.
Meanwhile, as the news of Mr Kefu’s death spread to other countries in the Pacific, social media was lit up with images of his friends, colleagues and associates holding candles in his honour.
Cook Islands and New Zealand travel bubble announced
The governments of Cook Islands and New Zealand have announced that a two-way travel bubble will commence as of May 17th.
The announcement will be welcomed by the business community of the tourism-dependent Cook Islands. The closure of international borders has seen tourism dry up and this has had knock-on effects in other parts of the economy. Many people who were living in Cook Islands have relocated to New Zealand (Cook Islanders have New Zealand citizenship) to take up other work opportunities. This may leave some businesses in Cook Islands short of skilled staff.
New Zealand is preparing to administer vaccines to the adult population of Cook Islands, which numbers around 15,000. Given the logistical challenges associated with vaccination programmes, the plan is to inoculate the whole of the adult population in one go rather than in phases as is happening in New Zealand.
Infrastructure projects underway in Solomon Islands and Samoa
Construction of the sports facility for the 2023 Pacific Games in Solomon Islands is about to commence. A ground-breaking ceremony is planned for this week. The stadium is being gifted to the people of Solomon Islands by the People’s Republic of China. The project had been delayed because of COVID-related disruptions but is now back on track further to the arrival of 120 technical experts from CCECC, including engineers and site supervisors. The project manager, Eldon Tepa, has said that there will be local recruitment of labour to work on the construction.
Meanwhile, a chartered flight from China brought workers to Samoa to commence work on a number of major projects under the auspices of the caretaker government. The flight was organised by the China Harbour Engineering Company and the Chinese Embassy in Apia. Among the nearly 200 passengers were 34 who are working on the Apia Port Safety project and 56 who will be involved in building a new Chinese Embassy.