Remote island nation grapples with first COVID surge

World

COVID cases are surging on the Marshall Islands as the Pacific nation grapples with its first community outbreak of the pandemic.

Prior to the current wave of cases, there had been no transmissions within the island group, which is located around 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and 3,000 miles east of the Philippines.

In a recent post on his Facebook account, health minister Jack Niedenthal said that 75% of people getting tested on the main island of Majuro were returning a positive result.

Before the current outbreak, around 60 COVID cases were reported in the Marshall Islands throughout the pandemic.

Now, more than 3,000 people have tested positive, with more than 1,000 testing positive in the 24 hours to Saturday alone.

The true numbers could be higher as reporting rates tend to be lower over the weekend.

Seven people have been hospitalised and two have died, according to the health minister.

More on Covid-19

The population of the islands is recorded to be close to 60,000, and the vaccination rate sits at around 70%.

However, Mr Niedenthal says he believes the true immunisation rate is closer to 85% due to the population decreasing in the past decade.

People are being advised to only seek clinical treatment if they are suffering from severe symptoms, such as struggling to breathe, being confused or having a high fever.

Those with mild symptoms have been told to rest, drink water and take paracetamol.

A lockdown is unlikely, with Mr Niedenthal saying: “Some are suggesting lockdowns.

“To put it simply, lockdowns with this Omicron BA.5 variant do not work.

“We know this, both historical and scientific evidence support this. As we have learned this variant burned through the [Federated States of Micronesia] three times faster than the CDC model initially predicted.

“This is because in Micronesia most of us live in houses with many family members.”

He added that he believes cases will likely burn out within a month.

The Marshall Islands maintained its largely COVID-free status over the past two years by restricting overseas access.

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The official advice from the UK’s Foreign Office says: “A total suspension of international travellers coming to the Marshall Islands continues and commercial flights to and from the islands remain very limited. There is a small number of repatriation flights.”

Two experts from the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been sent to the islands to help manage the outbreak.

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