3 May 2021

In brief: News from around the Pacific

4:24 pm on 3 May 2021

Samoa court to hear 28 election challenges; PNG begins its Covid-19 vaccine rollout beyond the capital; Rarotonga's dog population is to be surveyed, and more.

Samoa's Supreme Court

Samoa's Supreme Court Photo: RNZ Pacific / Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

Samoa court to hear 28 election challenges

Samoa's Supreme Court will hear 28 challenges related to the country's election this week.

How it decides on any of the petitions could break the deadlock that's prevented a government from being formed for nearly a month.

The incumbent Human Rights Protection Party and the newcomer FAST party remain tied on 26 seats each.

The complaints raise questions about the validity of certain victories, the practices of candidates, and of the Electoral Commissioner.

The court has scheduled the first hearings from Tuesday.

Petition to NZ parliament urging review of Samoa election

A petition has been presented in New Zealand's parliament urging the government to review Samoa's 2021 electoral process.

The petition of Josefina Fuimaono-Sapolu seeks to ensure a free, fair and democratic process was conducted.

Fuimaono-Sapolu draws attention to the appointment of an MP who did not win in her constituency.

Seventh fatality in Wallis and Futuna Covid-19 outbreak

A seventh person has died in Wallis and Futuna's Covid-19 community outbreak.

According to the public broadcaster, the individual had first been taken to hospital in early March but after four days was flown to New Caledonia and died after 51 days in intensive care.

The victim was the first person in Wallis to contract the virus outside the quarantine zone.

Just over half the population has been vaccinated with the first dose of Moderna since a mass campaign was launched in mid-March by health care teams flown in from France.

Within three weeks more than 45 percent of the adult population was vaccinated but the inoculation rate has slowed sharply, with just another five percent getting the jab in the past month.

Remedial work underway on Atiu runway in the Cooks

Access to the northern Cook Island of Atiu has been threatened by the poor state of the atoll's runway.

Air Rarotonga said the island's runway had deteriorated to a point where it was concerned for the safety of passengers and crew.

The prime minister, Mark Brown, said the island government had been unable to keep up with maintenance requirements.

He told Cook Islands TV he had ordered urgent remedial works "to ensure the airport closure time is kept to a minimum, so we can allow the Air Raro flights to continue flying to Atiu, particularly in the case of emergencies that we may be needed".

"So this is being undertaken now," Brown explained.

Another outer Cook Island, Mitiaro, experienced similar issues last month.

PNG's Covid-19 vaccine rollout begins beyond capital

Papua New Guinea is set to begin extending its Covid-19 vaccine rollout to provinces outside the capital this week, as the number of cases continues to climb.

PNG is one of the worst-hit countries in the region, with almost 11,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and 107 deaths.

However, with low testing rates, the real death toll and number of people who are infected is believed to be far higher.

Vaccination of frontline health workers in the National Capital District began in late March after Australia sent 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But vaccine hesitancy is significant among nurses in particular, and so far only around half of those 8,000 doses have been used among health workers.

However 103,000 doses of AstraZeneca, donated by Australia via the international Covax programme, were distributed throughout other provinces in the country last week.

From today, according to authorities, they'll be given to frontline workers, including health staff, border workers and police.

Dog population survey in Rarotonga

Authorities in the Cook Islands are about to embark on a survey of Rarotonga's dog population.

A police spokesperson says teams will be visiting homes across the island to gather information about just how many dogs there are on Rarotonga.

Stray dogs have been seen as an increasing menace to livestock, locals and tourists on the island, with several measures introduced in recent years to control the population.

The police spokesperson says a database will be established to help enforce registration laws.

Eight to 10 percent of visitors to the Cook Islands will often make complaints about stray dogs.

Eight to 10 percent of visitors to the Cook Islands will often make complaints about stray dogs. Photo: RNZ/ Daniela Maoate-Cox

CNMI scraps mask mandate for those fully vaccinated

The Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation in the Northern Marianas says fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask outdoors, except in certain crowded settings.

This comes after the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest guidance which said fully vaccinated individuals were those who were at least two weeks past their final dose.

But the corporation says about half of the CNMI's adult population have yet to be fully vaccinated and the 3 Ws - wearing a mask, washing hands, and watching a distance is still necessary on certain occasions where unvaccinated people may be present.

Meanwhile, the CNMI has logged its 168th case of Covid-19 after four travellers were confirmed positive after arrived in the territory last week.