The COVID-19 outbreak that started in early December 2019 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 March 2020. It means that the number of affected countries increased, including Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). It doesn’t mean, however, that the virus has become more infectious or more deadly.
As of 20 March, 4 countries (Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam and New Caledonia) in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) have reported 21 cases. Among our closer neighbours, cases are also reported in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.
COVID-19 represents a significant challenge for the region. The Pacific Community (SPC), as the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP) lead in public health, has taken all necessary measures to help address the spread of Covid-19. This includes the adoption of a response framework aimed at supporting staff well-being and business continuity while supporting an efficient regional response to the pandemic.
Which are the main risk areas for PICTs?
- In most of the PICTs, access to quality health services is limited, due to a lack of infrastructure, equipment, and qualified personnel. In the current situation, this can pose a problem of access to care if the number of infected people increases.
- Most PICTs do not have the needed laboratory equipment to analyse the tests on site, which creates difficulties in identifying cases. The test samples have to be sent to other countries for analysis.
- Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) are frequented by tourists. This represents a risk due to the movement of people to and from PICTs (although restrictive measures have been put in place); and also a risk for the local economies: in Palau, Vanuatu and Fiji for instance, the tourism industry represent around 40% of the GDP.
For information on current measures being taking in SPC member countries please download this document.
Pacific Community Response
What is SPC doing to help its member countries and territories deal with the current COVID-19 pandemic?
- SPC is supporting PICTs preparedness and their responses to COVID-19 through public health surveillance, infection prevention and control, risk communication, disaster management, humanitarian response, statistics, educational assessment, data custodianship and GIS mapping.
- SPC is actively participating in the World Health Organization (WHO)-led multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT)*. This means that we are meeting daily with IMT members to evaluate the needs of the Pacific countries and identifying and coordinating appropriate measures for preparedness and response to the rapidly-evolving situation.
- Along with its partners, SPC also implements all relevant preparedness activities to help its members manage the risks associated with the virus including;
- The deployment of staff to do in-country training on COVID-19 case identification, contact tracing, case investigation, outbreak management;
- The deployment of staff to do in-country assessment and training on infection control.
- SPC provides funding for laboratory sample shipment and testing, in order to help its members identify potential cases and respond accordingly.
- SPC coordinates the procurement process for point-of-care test (BD Veritor System) to allow in-country confirmation of influenza cases, thereby facilitating proper case management.
- SPC is the focal point of the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN), a network of countries and organisations dedicated to the promotion of public health surveillance and appropriate response to the health challenges of 22 Pacific Island countries and territories. PPHSN includes six services to prevent and respond to epidemics. These include coordination of laboratory services, surveillance systems, infection control, alert and communication, knowledge exchange and capacity building. More information: https://www.who.int/westernpacific/about/how-we-work/pacific-support/pphsn
- On a longer-term perspective, SPC continues to coordinate the implementation of the Strengthening Health Interventions in the Pacific (SHIP) programme, a capacity development programme to develop and strengthen competencies in epidemiology, surveillance, outbreak investigation and management, risk communication and reporting. In 2019 SPC has also introduced the Laboratory Mentorship Programme to improve on laboratory service capacity, while working on improving laboratory quality management.
What is SPC doing to protect its staff?
- SPC has activated a Security Management Group, in order to assess potential impacts and consequences of COVID-19 in SPC premises, prepare and respond appropriately to mitigate these risks, and communicate timely and helpful information to all staff of the organization and its members.
- Along with the other CROP agencies, SPC has implemented a wide range of measures to limit the spread of the virus, such as limiting non-essential travel and postponing events and meetings that were supposed to take place on its premises.
- Bi-weekly staff communication with health and travel advisories are circulated directly to staff members (in English and French language) and made available online.
COVID-19 Quick Facts
What is 2019 Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a zoonotic (passed from animal to man) virus (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html) identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses generally causing illness in animals. Including the COVID-19 there are now seven known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold. However, at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe disease — severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus that had originated from bats and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus originating from camels.
How to recognize the symptoms?
Common signs of COVID-19 infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. Current estimates of the incubation period of the virus range from 2-14 days, and these estimates will be refined as more data become available.
Is there a Treatment?
There is no specific medication to treat COVID-19 infection. However those with COVID-19 infection can receive supportive care to help relieve the symptoms.
Are there preventive measures?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Social distancing, regular hand washing, and voluntary quarantine if you feel sick can all be effective in reducing the spread of the virus.
Visit the WHO website for current global situation reports on COVID-19: (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports)
* Established on 27 January, a Joint Incident Management Team (IMT) was established to support Pacific COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts. Coordinated by WHO, this Joint IMT based in the WHO office in Suva, Fiji, currently includes the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), the Pacific Community (SPC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), and the World Food Programme (WFP). Through the Joint IMT, close coordination with Ministries of Health across the Pacific is ongoing, as well as with key partners, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Pacific Island Health Officers’ Association (PIHOA), the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the UN agencies and Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) Clusters