After following the news for the past two years it would be fair to assume that the COVID-19 virus had been everywhere. Even though it’s fair to understand why, that assumption would be false. As of early 2022, the coronavirus had not yet been detected in the remote Pacific islands of Kiribati. Now, that is no longer the case. It’s safe to say that the virus has now officially touched each part of the globe.
When the pandemic began, Kiribati immediately closed its borders until January 10, 2022. The island is located 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. The independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations is part of a division of the Pacific islands called Micronesia. Of the 33 islands that make up Kiribati, 21 are inhabited. Once borders opened, the first commercial plane landing on the islands harbored passengers that were carrying the virus. In fact, more than two-thirds of passengers on the flight were infected. That led to a wave of Coronavirus cases throughout the islands that more than 100,000 people call home. 36 out of 54 of the passengers on the flight to Kiribati had positive tests upon landing on the islands. They tested positive after completing a quarantine prior to departure, too. A large group of the passengers who tested positive for the virus upon landing on the island are missionaries for the Latter-day Saints. The missionaries are originally from Kiribati and were stuck abroad throughout the duration of the pandemic.
The arrival and subsequent spread of the virus led to the local government declaring a state of emergency on January 22nd. The fact that the virus has been transmitted through the community has become a matter of concern for numerous reasons. Aside from the fact that the territories have a relatively fragile healthcare system, the virus has killed citizens in the nearby Solomon Islands. As of Tuesday, the amount of COVID cases that have been detected on the islands have reached 629. Reports from the Kiribati Minister of Health, Titine Itinteang are positive from the standpoint of the current condition of those dealing with the virus. According to Itinteang, there are no critically unwell individuals in Kiribati currently. Even though that’s the case, he disclosed that testing is rather limited. Since that’s the case, their aim is to conduct targeted, selective testing.
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Vaccination is another aspect of the pandemic that has been challenging for the Pacific island nation. Even though more than 93% of the Kiribati population is vaccinated with at least one dose, only 50% of residents are fully vaccinated. That’s well short of the nation’s goal of vaccinating 80% of its target population. Making matters more complicated is the fact that the nation has enough vaccines to provide protection against serious infection from COVID to over 70,000 people. Until that changes and infection rates fall, the citizens of Kiribati remain under strict 24-hour curfew and border restrictions. This compounds the frustration from residents given the fact that the government had nearly 2 years to prepare for when, not if, the virus arrived on its shores. Both the citizens and nearby governments are left to wonder what the government was doing in preparation of mitigating the spread of COVID prior to opening up the borders. That’s especially the case considering the troubles that other nearby island nations have faced, like Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Samoa.