25 Jan 2020

Pacific steps up defences against coronavirus

6:44 am on 25 January 2020

The Pacific is stepping up defences against the coronavirus, with many countries introducing health screenings at airports and seaports.

A worker disinfecting the waiting area at a railway station in Nanchang, in China's central Jiangxi province. 22 January.

Photo: AFP

The Marshall Islands has banned direct travel from China in the wake of the deadly new virus.

The country has followed Samoa's example and travellers from China must first spend at least 14 days in a coronavirus free country before entering the Marshall Islands.

The Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal said the country's health facilities, struggling with the current dengue epidemic, could easily be overwhelmed with the coronavirus.

Palau's Ministry of Health said although there were no direct flights to Palau from Wuhan, where the virus started, it was preparing to check passengers.

It has activated the first operational period, which includes strengthening surveillance efforts and supply first responders with resources if necessary.

President Tommy Remengesau said the island country was serious in making sure that it was prepared to address the virus if it reached Palau.

Asian travellers often frequent Palau during Chinese New Year's celebration, when tourism peaks on the island.

In 2003, Palau banned entry from areas the World Health Organisation listed under its SARS travel advisory because it was not equipped to deal with an outbreak.

Fijians urged not to travel to China

Fijians have been advised against travelling to China following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The government this week put all its ports of entry on alert as it monitors the pneumonia-like virus.

Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete says they were working with the World Health Organisation to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

He said with the increased travel from China, due to the Spring Festival celebrations, medical officials had been stationed at airports and seaports around the country.

While there were no coronavirus cases reported in Fiji, Dr Waqainabete said the risk levels were now higher after a suspected case was reported in Australia.

The Fiji Embassy in Beijing said its citizens in China including 12 students studying in Wuhan, who were safe and had not been affected by coronavirus.

In French Polynesia, health authorities say for the time being there is little risk of the Chinese coronavirus being introduced in Tahiti.

However, they say people who have recently returned from China and have respiratory problems should wear a face mask when meeting other people.

Such individuals are advised to contact the authorities in the first instance and not to go to a doctor or a hospital.

There are no direct airlinks between China and Tahiti.

A planned charter flight from China for the Lunar New Year holiday was cancelled this week because of difficulties with a flight authorisation.

Similar documentation problems prompted the cancellation of a charter flight from China to New Caledonia.