One of the last coronavirus-free sanctuaries in the world has been breached, with the US military importing two cases of Covid-19 into the remote Marshall Islands.
The Marshalls had been one of the last nations on Earth – most of which are in the Pacific – without a single confirmed case of Covid-19.
But the country’s chief secretary issued an alert on Wednesday night saying the country’s first border cases of the novel coronavirus had been identified in two workers on the US military base on Kwajalein Atoll.
The two cases – a 35-year-old woman and 46-year-old man, both of whom are asymptomatic – flew into Kwajalein Atoll direct from Honolulu.
The two cases are not epidemiologically related and both remain in quarantine on the military base.
The Marshalls national disaster committee said there was no threat of community transmission.
“Members of the public are requested to remain calm and stay tuned for updates.
“Because these are border cases and contained in strict quarantine this does not require a nationwide lockdown. Schools will continue, shops and businesses will remain open and government operations will continue until further notice.”
The Marshalls closed its borders to all entries in March, but eased restrictions slightly in June to allow in some people, mostly US military base workers, subject to a three-week quarantine at the Kwajalein garrison.
French and US military and police deployments to French Polynesia and Guam have also been the source of most of those countries’ Covid-19 outbreaks.
In French Polynesia, there has been an alarming surge in cases. The territory has recorded 7200 cases, and 29 deaths, including three deaths in the last three days.
Cases have increased by 41% in the last week, and are now over 300 a day.
On Guam, where America’s Andersen air base has been linked to a large number of cases, the memorial hospital is setting up a tent in the carpark to treat Covid patients, because its wards are overwhelmed. Patients are waiting more than three days for a bed to become available. Guam has recorded 4,466 cases and 76 deaths.
The Pacific remains the least Covid-infected region on the planet, aided by remote geography and early and strict border closures. But Pacific economies, already fragile and having been cut off from the outside world for months, are suffering acutely.
Globally, only the small and remote island nations and territories of Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are believed to be still free of the virus.