Northern Marianas confirms Covid-19 death, more austerity

6:39 pm on 1 April 2020
CNMI Governor Ralph Torres

CNMI Governor Ralph Torres Photo: CNMI Govt

The Northern Marianas govenrment believes there's community transmission of Covid-19 on Saipan, with the territory confirming four more cases in the territory on Wednesday, bringing the total to six.

The governor, Ralph Torres, also confirmed that the death of a 70-year-old man at a quarantine facility on Monday was because of the coronavirus.

The four new cases include a 14-year-old, a 60 year old and a 77 year old.

RNZ Pacific's correspondent on Saipan, Mark Rabago, said with one hospital, and samples still having to be sent to Guam for testing, the territory is unprepared for an outbreak and concern is mounting.

"As far as the hospital, there's just no way that we can accomodate the projections like what they had in China, or Italy, or the United States," he said.

The US Government last week announced that it would supply testing kits and equipment to the territory, but that is yet to be implemented.

A territory-wide curfew has been imposed to curtail the spread of Covid-19, and with the withdrawal of United Airlines today, all flights in and out of Saipan have been suspended.

Meanwhile, the Northern Marianas government has moved to implement harsher austerity measures as the US territory's economy crumbles in the face of Covid-19.

All schools have been closed until next year, with classes moved online, and all non-essential goverment offices have been closed indefinitely.

It comes after Mr Torres announced that the government budget will be slashed by a further 20 percent, with visitor numbers in the tourism-dependent economy falling to zero.

Since super-typhoon Yutu hit in 2018, the government budget has fallen from US$237 million to $77 million.

Mr Rabago said jobless numbers have skyrocketed, but there was hope that a $2 trillion stimulus package announced in the US would help the territory.

"We just hope that the stimulus package that was signed by President Trump will come in sooner," he said. "Hopefully business will benefit. Because every store is shut down."