28 Oct 2021

In brief: News from around the Pacific

6:38 pm on 28 October 2021
This picture taken on September 7, 2021, shows a view of the almost deserted city centre of Noumea, in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. - New Caledonia imposed a new coronavirus lockdown starting on September 7, 2021, after three new cases were confirmed

Noumea, New Caledonia. Photo: AFP or licensors

Paris wary of risks to New Caledonia referendum

The French Overseas Territories Minister says the government is being vigilant about any risk of destabilisation around the upcoming independence referendum in New Caledonia.

With the referendum only six weeks away, AFP reports that Sébasten Lecornu has identified interference from abroad as a potential risk to the referendum.

It's the third and final in a series of self-determination referenda, with the previous two, in 2018 and 2020, producing narrow but decreasing majority votes for the status quo.

Lecornu said that with only 9000 votes of difference between the yes and no votes in last year's referendum, interference or possible manipulation by foreign state actors could pose a significant threat.

He said the French General Secretariat for Defense and National Security had set up a cell to try to track any digital manipulations.

Fiji's Covid-19 numbers continue downward trend

Fiji health authorities have reported 16 new cases of Covid-19 and no new deaths in their latest daily update.

The figures continue to track down from the peak of the Delta outbreak when new daily case numbers sometimes exceeded 1000 around three months ago.

Fiji's total number of cases since the outbreak began in April has just nudged past 52,000.

So far in the pandemic, 673 deaths related to the virus have been reported in Fiji.

The Ministry says 96.3 percent of the target population - or 595,597 people - has had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

And 86.9 percent of the target population - a total of 537,398 people - have received their second dose and are now fully vaccinated.

UK medical team sent to Covid-19 inundated Western Highlands in PNG

A British Emergency Medical Team has been deployed to Papua New Guinea's Western Highlands province to help treat Covid-19 patients.

The area is struggling with a brutal third wave of the pandemic, fuelled by transmission of the Delta variant.

The team is scheduled to be in the provincial capital Mt Hagen for six weeks.

PNG's National Pandemic Response controller David Manning says Mt Hagen's health system is in dire need of specialist assistance. Its hospital wards are full with Covid-19 patients.

For weeks, dozens of people presenting at the facility each day have tested positive for the virus, while Covid-19 deaths are surging in the province.

In the capital of Port Moresby a mass burial scheme has been approved, after the morgue filled to more than four times its capacity with stacked bodies.

And earlier this week, the Prime Minister of PNG, James Marape told provincial health authorities they must do better in their fight against the virus, or they will be replaced.

Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Port Vila, Vanuatu Photo: RNZI

Ministries closed in Vila as Covid-19 threat looms

The gates to all Vanuatu's ministries have been locked in Port Vila, as speculation mounts that the capital may soon go into lockdown.

This comes after two Covid-19 cases were confirmed on arrival on a flight from New Caledonia.

The government public relations officer, Fred Vurobaravu, said the country's annual popular Fest' Napuan music festival, scheduled for this week in Vila, would be cancelled if any community case is confirmed.

Vurobaravu said the Covid-19 National Task Force was to test all 18 passengers who arrived on the flight from the French Territory, as well as all individuals who came into close contact with the two ni-Vanuatu.

Meanwhile Radio Vanuatu reports that all 18 passengers on the flight were tested in Noumea and cleared before travel to Vanuatu, but the two cases were confirmed during normal border control testing in Vila.

Vaccination campaign a struggle in rural PNG

A policeman raising awareness about Covid-19 vaccination in rural Papua New Guinea has described the campaign as a struggle.

Mistrust of vaccines is deep in PNG, where only around 2 percent of the population has been inoculated against Covid, while a Delta-fuelled third wave of the pandemic is causing daily casualties.

Terry Dap is one of a handful of policemen in West Sepik province's Telefomin district, covering 16,000 square kilometres, with a population of around 50,000.

He said it remained difficult convincing people of the protection from the virus that vaccination can offer them.

"The health authorities are still struggling to get people to understand, to have them vaccinated," Sergeant Dap explained.

"But they (the public) don't want to get jabbed because they say to the health authorities you have to come down and explain to us what are the effects after they've been vaccinated, what are the effects one year or two years onwards."

Xi talks to PNG's Marape

The Chinese President Xi Jinping says his government stands ready to work with Papua New Guinea to build a shared future for China and Pacific Island nations.

During a telephone conversation with PNG's Prime Minister James Marape, Xi noted that the country had important influence in the Pacific islands region.

He said he would like the two countries to work together to deal with regional challenges such as climate change, while adhering to multilateralism, and safeguarding international equity and justice.

There were promises of ongoing bilateral exchanges and cooperation in areas such as poverty reduction, resource protection and utilisation, and infrastructure development.

The Chinese side said it was willing to continue to provide PNG with economic and technical assistance with no political conditions attached, as well as support for PNG in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

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