22 Mar 2023

Pacific news in brief for March 22

1:21 pm on 22 March 2023

Vanuatu/Fiji - disease

Six new cases of leptospirosis have been reported in Vanuatu by the National Surveillance Unit since March 6, bringing the total number of cases this year to 26.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease with symptoms including high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice and abdominal pain.

It is spread through the urine of infected animals, which can contaminate water or moist soil.

The Daily Post reports most of the cases are from Santo.

Meanwhile, there has been a recent surge of leptospirosis in Fiji, in the provinces of Macuata and Bua.

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services said between January 1 and February 26, there were 171 cases, and within a span of one week from February 27 a further 50 cases were recorded.

New Caledonia - sharks

More beaches have been closed across New Caledonia.

A three-metre shark has been spotted in Kone, a northern beach, which prompted authorities to close it until further notice.

Two other beaches are closed until Friday in the bay of Mont-Dore near Noumea.

Swimming is still not allowed on the beaches of Anse-Vata and Citrous Bay around Noumea where a shark attack occurred last month.

Fiji/New Zealand - military

HMNZS Canterbury, pictured with Atafu atoll in the background.

HMNZS Canterbury, pictured with Atafu atoll in the background. Photo: © Crown Copyright 2020, New Zealand Defence Force. Licenced under Creative Commons BY 4.0.

The New Zealand Defence Force ship HMNZS Canterbury has arrived in Fiji with nearly 300 personnel, for training for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support in the Pacific.

The Defence Force is also there to provide support to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces' training objectives.

Over the next two weeks the Royal New Zealand Air Force No.3 Squadron will practise flying NH-90 and A-109 helicopters from both the ship at sea and from land in a tropical environment.

Air Force No. 230 Squadron will establish high frequency communications sites, and NZ Army personnel will test amphibious landing capabilities.

Papua - hostage

The chair of the political arm of the West Papua independence movement says it is prepared to negotiate with the government of Indonesia and the West Papua Liberation Army for the safe release of New Zealand hostage Philip Mehrtens.

In a signed statement received by RNZ Pacific, Jeffery Bomanak urged Indonesia not to launch a military operation of any kind that could further endanger the life of the pilot.

Mehrtens, a pilot with Susi Air, was taken hostage on February 7 after landing in the remote region of Nduga.

Up until now the West Papua Liberation Army has refused to negotiate with Indonesia but instead demanded to engage directly with New Zealand.

But Bomanak said they are now seeking a peaceful resolution to the situation.

PNG - parliament

The Papua New Guinea parliament will have five more MPs after the 2027 election.

This is due to population growth of three percent annually.

The extra seats will take the total number of seats in parliament to 123.

French Polynesia - election

Seven parties will run in French Polynesia's local elections next month.

Voters will elect a new 57-member assembly for a five-year term in two rounds of voting.

Observers say only the ruling Tapura Huiraatira and the pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira stand a chance of winning, given their presence across the island groups.

Fiji - schools

The Fiji Government has signed an agreement with Australia for the upgrade of nine schools, at a cost of $AU10 million.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Biman Prasad said work has started on several schools and contracts have been awarded.

Australian High Commission's Charge D'affaires, John Williams, said the first completed school was expected to be open by mid-year.

Samoa - accident

In Samoa the driver of a bus that crashed earlier this month has died in hospital from the injuries he sustained.

The bus flipped over and landed on its roof leaving the driver critically injured and was fighting for his life at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole National Hospital.

The Samoa Observer reported the driver died on Sunday night, just over a week after the accident.

The MP for Vaa-o-Fonoti, Mauu Siaosi Puepuemai, has blamed poor road conditions for the fatality and warned local authorities of more accidents if the roads are not fixed.