21 Jul 2021

Pacific News in Brief on Wednesday 21 July

5:01 pm on 21 July 2021

Solomons hesitates on repatriating students; Samoan vaccination age could drop; Samoa's HRPP wins electoral petition; West Papuan covid demand; Cost of repatriation flights revealed in American Samoa; Vanuatu plastics Australia bound, and; Cooks exhibition first at Auckland community gallery.

Students will have to wait to get home

The Solomon Islands government is holding back on repatriating its students from Fiji after more of them tested positive for Covid-19.

In a national address, prime minister Manasseh Sogavare, said 22 students and dependents have so far tested positive for the virus.

The Fijian authorities said 13 of those are active cases, which Mr Sogavare describes as extremely worrying.

He said there were 850 Solomon Islanders studying in Fiji, just over 50 of whom had graduated and were ready to return home.

But the Prime minister also said Fijian health officials are unsure when it will be safe to do so.

There are no community cases of Covid-19 in Solomon Islands and Mr Sogavare said it would be devastating if they imported the delta variant from Fiji.

Samoa looks at lowering vaccination age

Samoa is looking at lowering the minimum age of people eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine.

Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri said a surplus of vaccines has led the Ministry to consider a minimum age of 12 to get vaccinated.

The New Zealand government has offered to supply the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Samoa, which would allow younger age groups to be immunised.

Samoa's Ministry of Health is also looking at vaccinating mothers who have been breastfeeding for more than six months.

Leausa Dr Take Naseri fronts the media

Leausa Dr Take Naseri fronts the media Photo: RNZ Pacific / Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

Leausa believes the breastfeeding mothers category is too broad and is now under review.

He said there are mothers who breastfeed for only six or eight months, and other mothers who are breastfeeding for two to three years.

Leausa said they're looking at decreasing it to up to six months since breastfeeding to be eligible for the vaccine.

Samoa's HRPP wins latest electoral petition

Samoa's caretaker government has held on to the Anoama'a No 2 seat today in an electoral petition which backfired on the FAST party candidate.

The petition against the HRPPs deputy leader and member-elect, Lauofo Fonotoe Lauofo, was dismissed by the Supreme Court today.

But FAST's To'omata Norah Leota in turn was found guilty of illegal activities in a counter-petition.

The case had been blighted by accusations that witnesses for FAST's To'omata had been intimidated and prevented from testifying.

Arrest warrants had been issued for witnesses to appear.

The Samoa Observer reports members-elect for the HRPP are now confirmed at 19 seats while FAST remains at 26.

West Papuan covid demands

An exiled West Papuan liberation movement leader is calling on Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the US to supply covid-19 vaccines directly to the region.

Benny Wenda, the head of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, which describes itself as the Provisional Government, said he has also written to the World Health Organisation and the UN's Human Rights commissioner regarding the covid-19 situation in West Papua.

He said covid-19 is a further existential threat to his people after Indonesia recently launched military operations.

Mr Wenda said Western countries and the WHO have an urgent moral obligation to provide vaccines directly to the West Papuan government.

He said the Indonesian government cannot be trusted to protect the health of the population.

Cost of repatriation flights revealed in American Samoa

The first six repatriation flights from Honolulu and the two Samoas cost the American Samoan government more than US$9 million.

That is according to data in the government's 2021 Mid-Year Performance Report.

In May, New Zealand reported the US territory had spent more than US$4.1 million, bringing home New Zealanders stranded overseas.

The report for American Samoa provides the estimated costs of each repatriation flight - the first one in February - from Hawaii.

The report also notes that the repatriation programme is in its final stage with one more flight left from Honolulu on July 29.

That flight will close a chapter on this phase of the Territory's Covid-19 Response Operation while other components remain in place to safeguard the island from the coronavirus disease.

Plastic bottles heading to Australia

Vanuatu is about to ship its first container of used plastic bottles for recycling in Australia.

Its export is the initiative of the Vanuatu Environmental Science Society and RecycleCorp and is a pilot to find out the logistics and costs involved in recycling bottles.

The collection of plastic bottles was initiated by World Vision with funding from Australia and the ANZ Bank.

Out of 42 tons of plastic bottles collected, only four tons of cleaned ones will be exported.

To reduce plastic pollution, in 2018 the government banned single use plastic shopping bags, plastic straws and polystyrene takeaway containers.

Container with plastic bottles ready for  export to Australia

Container with plastic bottles ready for export to Australia Photo: Hilaire Bule

Community gallery's first exhibition opens

Auckland's Cook Islands community has opened the first exhibition in its new gallery.

Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum has opened a new gallery designed to help Auckland communities share their stories.

The first exhibition at Te Taunga Community Hub Gallery is Te Mekameka O Toku Ipukarea: The Treasures of my Homeland, presented by the Cook Islands community, which also gifted the name of the exhibition to the museum.

Visitors will be able to experience the story of the Mauke people through the eyes of the community itself rather than through the museum's interpretation.

This is the first of a series of communities that Te Taunga will host over the next two years.