Marshall Islands, Once Nearly Covid-Free, Confronts an Outbreak

As a distant nation within the Pacific, the Marshall Islands had been nearly fully spared from Covid-19, registering only a handful of instances all through the pandemic, with no neighborhood transmission detected.

But in simply over per week, greater than 4,000 individuals have examined constructive in a inhabitants of about 60,000, together with the nation’s secretary of well being and human companies, Jack Niedenthal. He has been offering updates on Facebook and stated 75 p.c of these examined in Majuro, the capital, had Covid, “an incredibly high positivity rate.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Niedenthal stated there was some panic and concern, on condition that the islands, about midway between Hawaii and the Philippines, had not recorded a single Covid case final yr.

“So people were thinking, ‘Hey, these guys really know what they’re doing,’” he stated. “The problem is people started wanting to travel, they missed their loved ones, some leaders traveled.”

As life started to return to regular, maintaining the virus out was inconceivable, he stated. Mr. Niedenthal anticipated the case depend to proceed rising, given the dense inhabitants. “The next three to four days are going to be pretty rough,” he stated.

Hundreds of well being care staff have been among the many contaminated. At the hospital in Majuro, immunizations had been halted as a result of nearly all the group was out, a lot of the medical document keepers had been out, and the housecleaning employees was decreased to 1 individual, he stated.

On Aug. 10, Mr. Niedenthal known as well being care staff again to work even when they examined constructive, saying they might be screened and wouldn’t work together with sufferers. He stated it was a drastic measure that “has been taken throughout the world and the Pacific as Covid numbers rise quickly and we are left with no other choice.”

Hospitalizations and deaths are inclined to lag behind case numbers, however as of this week there had been few extreme instances, together with six deaths.

The inhabitants is extremely vaccinated: 72 p.c are absolutely vaccinated in Majuro, and 61 p.c have boosters, in accordance with authorities information. The Marshall Islands closed its borders in early March 2020, taking extra drastic measures than its neighbors on the time. It was one of many final locations on the planet to get its first instances, when two vacationers had been quarantined earlier than spreading it in October 2020.

Mr. Niedenthal stated the primary recognized instances of the present outbreak had been amongst a gaggle of youngsters who had no journey historical past or recognized contact with anybody who had been in quarantine. “So we knew we were in trouble, because they came from a crowded community,” he stated.

He stated that over the previous few days, individuals have been anxious, however that there was a robust sense of neighborhood on the islands. “It’s not like panic in the U.S. where everybody is buying toilet paper,” he stated.

And in contrast to early within the pandemic, the islands now have entry to Covid remedies, like Paxlovid, an antiviral remedy proven to forestall severe Covid instances, despatched by the U.S. authorities. Representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived on the island in latest days to help with the response.

Other governments have pitched in: Taiwan donated hundreds of masks, protecting robes and different hygiene merchandise, whereas American Samoa despatched shipments of Paxlovid. The Australian authorities has supplied protecting tools, testing kits, masks and face shields.

Angeline Heine Reimers, a authorities employee in Majuro, stated catching the virus had turn out to be nearly “unavoidable.” Many individuals reside in multifamily properties, she stated, including that 15 of the 16 individuals who reside in her home had contracted the virus.

“The good thing is that all of us had been vaccinated,” stated Ms. Heine Reimers, 46, including that every of their instances had been gentle. Many Marshallese reside with comorbidities that place them at greater threat if they’re sickened, and the Marshall Islands has one of many highest charges of diabetes on the planet, in accordance with information compiled by the World Bank. “Everybody is just really scared,” Ms. Heine Reimers stated.

Marie Davis Milne, the mayor of Ebon Atoll, about 240 miles southwest of Majuro, stated that the authorities had been making an attempt to forestall the unfold of the virus by stopping most planes and ships that journey between neighboring islands.

She stated that previously few days, she had volunteered at testing websites on Majuro, the place some individuals had waited beneath the recent solar for hours. “Even if it rains they don’t move,” Ms. Davis Milne stated. “They don’t want to lose their place in line.”

Jenny Gross and Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed reporting.

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