Kiribati and Samoa both went through COVID-19 lockdowns on Saturday after international arrivals brought with them the virus, a rarity for remote Pacific island nations.
This is the first pandemic lockdown in Kiribati, which had previously reported just two cases of COVID-19 — both were people isolated on board a fishing vessel in May 2021. The country reopened its borders to international travel earlier this month for the first time in nearly two years.
The government announced Tuesday that 36 of the 54 passengers on a flight from Fiji had tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival, despite having been vaccinated and tested negative three times during the pre-departure quarantine period. They were escorted to a quarantine center for further monitoring and testing. One of the frontline workers stationed outside the quarantine center also tested positive.
On Friday, the government confirmed a new case, this time involving someone not involved in the quarantine center.
Based on the latest case, “there is now an assumption that COVID-19 is now spreading in the community on South Tarawa and Betio,” the government wrote on Facebook.
South Tarawa is part of the capital of Kiribati and is home to about half of the population, or some 63,000 people.
A 24-hour curfew came into effect on Saturday and it is not clear how long the lockdown will last.
Residents can only leave their homes to access emergency or essential services, including hospitals, police forces, supermarkets and banks. Essential providers can only operate during certain hours, public transport does not run, social gatherings are prohibited and travel between the outer islands is prohibited.
The government also urged residents to get vaccinated. According to Radio Kiribati, only about 53% of adults had received two doses by the end of December.
In Samoa, officials announced a 48-hour lockdown after 15 of 73 passengers who arrived on a Wednesday flight from Brisbane, Australia, tested positive.
Samoa had previously confirmed only two cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. About 62% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Between Saturday and Monday, all residents, except essential workers, are required to stay home and off the road. Businesses, schools and restaurants are closed, travel is prohibited and mass gatherings are prohibited.
Agafili Tomaimano Shem Leo, the chairman of the National Emergency Operation Center, said the “day feared by authorities for COVID-19 to invade Samoa has arrived,” the government statement said.
“Our country is in a national emergency and our security is under siege from COVID-19,” he said, urging the public not to be complacent.
The government said failure to comply with lockdown restrictions could result in a $2,000 fine.