Marshall Islands: Remote Pacific nation hit by first Covid-19 outbreak

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - MAJURO — Covid-19 infection numbers have surged in the Marshall Islands, just days after the Pacific nation recorded its first local spread of the virus.

In the capital city of Majuro, total cases have nearly doubled since Friday.

These latest figures mean one in ten of the city's residents have been infected in recent days.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal said about 75% of tests across the country were returning positive results.

A number of Pacific islands had success with keeping coronavirus at bay early in the pandemic through stringent restrictions.

The Marshall Islands, which has a population of 59,000, was one of the last nations in the world to be untouched by Covid-19, before two cases were identified in October 2020. The pair had arrived from the US and were isolated from others.

As recently as one week ago, it had seen no community transmission of the virus — meaning that Covid had not been detected passing from person to person.

But on Monday, the first local spread was confirmed. The government responded by declaring a "state of health disaster", closing schools and introducing a range of public health measures.

The explosion in cases has seen the Marshall Islands shift from a "prevention to mitigation" strategy, Niedenthal wrote in a update.

"The days of quarantine upon arrival are now over," he said.

No lockdown has been ordered, but Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reports that many people have chosen to stay at home, with church services canceled and restaurants appearing quiet.

Since October 2020, two deaths have been reported across the Marshall Islands, and a cumulative total of 3,036 cases have been logged.

However, only nine hospitalizations had been recorded at the time of Niedenthal's Facebook update on Monday — with figures showing that 70% of Marshallese had been fully vaccinated.

Niedenthal, who posted earlier in the week that he too had tested positive, urged anyone severely unwell to report their case as an emergency at the hospital.

He urged people to avoid special "alternative care sites" which had been set up to deal with minor Covid symptoms.

"Much of the chaos is beginning to die down," he said, promising that "this will continue to get better."

Extra help would arrive from overseas including from the US, he added, with extra "boots on the ground" expected over the coming week. — BBC

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