16 Mar 2021

In brief: News from around the Pacific for 16 March

3:52 pm on 16 March 2021

PNG reports five more Covid-19 deaths, two people die as dozens break out of a PNG jail, Banabans seek heavenly help to ease drought and Kiribati extends border closure.

Papua New Guinea police.

Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

British Covid-19 variant detected in Wallis and Futuna

The authorities in Wallis and Futuna say the British variant of Covid-19 has been detected in the territory.

Since the first community case was diagnosed 10 days ago, the number of cases has risen to 186.

10 people are in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care.

The French prefect says 18000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be made available to fight the pandemic.

PNG govt reports new Covid-19 deaths

Five new Covid-19 related deaths have been confirmed in Papua New Guinea.

This brings the country's Covid death toll to 26.

PNG's National Pandemic Response Controller said the public must do all it can to prevent Covid-19 spreading from towns to remote areas.

David Manning's statement comes after the number of confirmed Covid cases in PNG hurtled past 2000.

The new cases came from the National Capital District which reported the highest of 26 cases; West Sepik - 7; Morobe - 7; Eastern Highlands - 32; East New Britain - 13; Central - 4; and Milne Bay which has not reported any new cases since last year has now reported 8 new cases.

Search for missing plane off Tahiti

A search still is underway in French Polynesia for a small plane which disappeared off Tahiti two days ago.

The aircraft was piloted by a 17-year-old who was a student at the flying school.

There have been several accounts of witnesses seeing the plane flew after its take-off from Tahiti but no reports of anyone seeing it crash.

The search area has been expanded.

Deadly jailbreak in PNG

Papua New Guinea's Corrections Services has confirmed two people died as dozens broke out from Madang's Beon jail.

The Post Courier newspaper reported the pair were shot after they attempted to run from police, and later died of their injuries.

The Corrections Commissioner, Stephen Pokanis, confirmed only two prisoners were recaptured while 43 remain at large.

He urged the escapees to surrender to police or community leaders.

Jailbreaks are common in PNG where the corrections system still has many people who are on remand incarcerated for months or years on end before their cases come to trial.

Banabans seek God's help to end drought

The thousands of Banabans living around the world are being called on to pray and fast as the Kiribati island struggles with its water crisis.

The islanders were grateful to get significant quantities of water and a desalination tank when a Kiribati Government ship arrived on Sunday.

The issues with drought on the island go back over six months and a Banaban community member in Fiji, Moteta Corrie, said they were seeking God's help to overcome the issues.

He was confident they would get wide support for the day long prayer and fasting vigil.

"We sent it out on our network and we received a lot of positive feedback.

"And now we are all binding together to pray hard for God's help, because when it comes to rain it is out of our control and our island's facing drought. So who sends rain, it's God, so we turn to him. It's a spiritual outlook but we know that it will work."

An elder on the island of about 12,000 inhabitants, Roubena Ritata, said the water issues were long standing and significant efforts needed to be made to overcome them.

Banaba was largely destroyed by phosphate miners, supplying farmers in New Zealand and Australia.

Kiribati extends border closures

The Kiribati Government has officially extended its Covid-19 border closure until the end of June.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said special approvals would still be available for humanitarian flights and for medevacs.

The Government's Repatriation Taskforce was continuing facilitate repatriation exercises to bring back all

i-Kiribati stranded overseas.

The Taskforce is also co-ordinating efforts to try and get Kiribati students to Fiji so they can commence their tertiary level studies.

A 14 quarantine at the government facility on South Tarawa remains mandatory.

Former top Cook Island official appointed to NZ DHB

New Zealand's Waitematā district health board has appointed former Secretary for Cook Islands Ministry of Health as their Director of Pacific Health.

Dr Josephine Aumea Herman is a public health physician and general practitioner and holds a PhD in epidemiology from the University of Auckland.

She is a past recipient of the Pasifika Medical Association Service Award for her contribution to Pacific Health.

Herman was also a medical officer of health with Auckland Regional Public Health Service from 2017 to 2018, where she helped lead the response to the wider region's mumps outbreak.

In the Cook Islands, she helped lead the national emergency health response to Covid-19, and the Cook Islands are one of a select few countries that have not reported a single case.

Waitematā DHB serves a population of almost 650,000 people, with around seven percent Pacific.