SEAN SINGH WRITES – Due to popularity among tourists, it appears that coronavirus spread more quickly to French Polynesia than to other islands of the South Pacific, where it looks to be well contained. Paradise uninterrupted!
For example, Tonga has a population of approximately 100,000 and is less developed compared to French Polynesia, so it is less traveled. As the coronavirus started spreading, Tonga and French Polynesia took similarly necessary measures to avoid the spread. As of April 18th, Tonga had no known cases of the virus.
On March 13th, Tonga implemented a public health emergency order, then declared a state of emergency on March 20th. They closed their borders on March 23rd. The last flight to Tonga was March 21st. Knowing that an outbreak would be catastrophic, and given their small population and limited medical resources, such steps were the only option. They restricted social gatherings and all recreational activities as well as celebrations and set curfews requiring people to be home between the hours of 8pm and 6am. By March 29th there was a national lockdown that required everyone to stay home other than for designated essential services. This lockdown is being enforced by the military and police.
On March 8th, people with symptoms were tested, with kits being sent to Australia for evaluation as Tonga did not have the equipment to review the tests. All the tests were negative for coronavirus. On April 11th Tonga received its first testing device from New Zealand. By April 17th they extended the shutdown to May 15th but eased the stay home restrictions, since they have no positive cases. Currently, flights to Tonga are prohibited until June 12th.
The islands of French Polynesia, though a territory of France, have 55 known cases of the coronavirus. Other South Pacific nations have reported few cases compared to the global devastation: Samoa, 0; Papua New Guinea, 7; Fiji Islands, 17; and New Caledonia, 18. French Polynesian islands such as Bora Bora and Tahiti are far better known for their luxury resorts and as a destination for yachts but they have many more flights coming from all over the world. To their advantage, though is that these islands have better medical resources and have been able to provide coronavirus support.
Globalization has had great economic benefits but has now accelerated this pandemic through travel. Less traveled countries have less fatalities. Clearly the price of globalization is far greater than living a simple life on an island paradise where people’s dreams are simple and personal relationships seem more relevant than economic progress. It’s something to think – or dream – about.