31 May 2021

In brief: News from around the Pacific

3:42 pm on 31 May 2021

Cooks' leader gets vaccine; Suspects in suicide bombings plans arrested in Papua; Tonga's pharmacy boost; and more.

Prime Minister Brown gets vaccine

The Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and his family have had their first COVID-19 vaccinations.

Mr Brown missed having his earlier because he was attending his daughter's graduation ceremony in New Zealand.

More than 7,000 people aged over 16 years have now had their first of two vaccinations, which is almost 95 percent of the Rarotonga population.

Cook Island Prime Minister Mark Brown.

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Phase one of the vaccination programme on Rarotonga wrapped up at the weekend.

"While it is not compulsory, I cannot stress enough how important it is that everyone living here in the Cook Islands aged 16 and over makes use of this vaccine," he said.

"By getting vaccinated you are not just protecting yourself, you are protecting all those around you - your children and other loved ones, extended family members, friends, co-workers and all those you come into contact with each day."

Suspects in suicide bombings plans arrested in Papua

Indonesian counter-terrorism police have arrested ten people suspected of planning suicide bombings in Papua province.

The Densus 88 counter-terrorism squad arrested the suspects in Merauke regency.

The Antara news agency reports that the suicide bombing plans targetted several churches in the region between Merauke city and the border with Papua New Guinea.

Merauke's district police chief, Untung Sangaji said the plans were foiled because police were on standby at the sites being targeted.

PNG's covid-19 case numbers close in on 16-thousand

Papua New Guinea authorities have recorded another 53 confirmed cases of Covid-19, taking the country's known tally of infections to 15,901.

The highest numbers were in Southern Highlands and Eastern Highlands Provinces.

The victims, 36 of whom showed Covid symptoms, ranged in ages from four to 77.

The official PNG national death toll remains at 162.

PNG's total number of confirmed cases has risen by over 14-thousand in the past three months, averaging about a thousand cases per week during that time.

Wallis extends Covid-19 restrictions for another week

Remaining restrictions on public gatherings in Wallis and Futuna have been extended until the weekend.

A first Covid-19 community outbreak in March prompted a sharp lockdown which was eased three weeks ago, allowing businesses to reopen.

After recording more than 400 infections, case numbers have abated but the French prefecture says as a precaution the current measures will be upheld.

They were expected to be eased last week, but the prefecture says the uptake of the vaccine has been insufficient to create herd immunity.

Almost half the population received a first vaccine within three weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak but the inoculation drive has stalled.

Fewer than 53 percent have received the first Moderna vaccination and 36 percent are fully vaccinated.

The prefecture says Sunday's early morning mass will be allowed to proceed.

Tonga gets aid for pharmacy warehouse

Tonga has received financial support from New Zealand for the construction of a new central pharmacy warehouse.

Tonga received a grant of 1.1 million dollars to assist its Covid-19 preparedness and response activities such as the National Deployment and Vaccine Plan.

New Zealand High Commissioner Tiffany Babington handed over the signed grant contribution letter to the Ministry of Health officials.

The warehouse will be the main centre for receiving and distributing medicine and medical supplies to health facilities across Tonga's island groups.

It'll also store vaccines in refrigeration and will keep stock safe from natural hazards and climate change risks.

Farewell to patrol boat

Vanuatu has farewelled its patrol boat, the RVS Tukoro, which has served the country for almost 34 years.

In a ceremony to farewell the ship and its crew, Prime Minister Bob Loughman thanked the Australian Government for its continued support through the RVS Tukoro.

The boat was a gift from Canberra to Vanuatu in 1983.

RVS Tukoro will now return to Australia and is due to return to Vanuatu in September with a new patrol boat the RVS Takuare.

RVS Takuare can spend around 20 days at sea and is more capable for female crews.

Award for top snaps

Tonga's High Commission in Australia is offering up to AU$3,000 in a photography competition for seasonal workers.

The High Commissioner, Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku'aho, is inviting submissions that capture positive experiences within the seasonal work programme.

She says the amateur photography competition is to celebrate Australia's Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme.

Despite it being suspended for half of last year, 2,537 workers are currently employed under the Scheme.

Princess Angelika says migrant work has delivered stable incomes for many Tongans and their families affected by the pandemic.

The top 20 submissions will be featured in an exhibition later this year to mark Tongan seasonal workers' vital contributions.

Architecture honour for Tuvalu church

Auckland-based firm South Pacific Architecture has won an accolade for its design of the Tuvalu Community Church in New Zealand's biggest city.

The win in the Te Kāhui Whaihanga Auckland Branch Awards means the building will be up for consideration at the Te Kāhui Whaihanga New Zealand awards, which will be judged later this year and announced in November.

The church was officially opened in March 2020 after 2 years of planning.