Pacific: COVID-19 Pandemic Now Affecting Island Nations
After keeping COVID-19 at bay for nearly two years, many of the Pacific’s smaller island nations, such as Kiribati and Samoa, are now seeing cases emerging in their countries.
Published 1 year ago
The majority of small island nations in the Pacific have had their maritime borders closed for nearly 2 years. International cruising boats biding their time in French Polynesia and Fiji, where entry has been possible following strict protocols, and those on the other side of the Pacific, all want to know what 2022 will bring regarding border openings. Unfortunately over the last few weeks a number of countries have reported their first cases of Covid, after successfully keeping the virus at bay since the start of the pandemic.
Closed Maritime Borders:
In the South Pacific, Samoa, which had been COVID-free for many months, went into a snap 48 hour lock-down after passengers on a repatriation flight from Brisbane, Australia tested positive for the virus while in quarantine. Health authorities report that as yet there is no evidence of community transmission, however the lockdown has been extended and all repatriation flights have been cancelled until further notice. Samoa’s borders remain closed as do those of American Samoa.
In the Solomon Islands, where borders also remain closed, infections continue to rise with evidence of widespread community transmission in the capital Honiara, nearby Malaita Province and potential threat in the Western Province.
Tonga continues to deal with the aftermath of the devastating tsunami following the volcanic eruption from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, and while it remains COVID-free due to a closed border policy since the start of the pandemic, 23 people onboard an Australian Navy vessel en-route to help with the recovery effort have tested positive for the virus.
While no cases have been reported on Niue, the government there has said its borders will continue to remain closed to tourists for the next few months. Niue Tourism Board chairperson Vanessa Marsh said there is no set date for re-opening its borders, but the country was looking towards the latter end of the first half of 2022.
The Cook Islands remain COVID-free, however have just re-opened their air borders with New Zealand. Maritime borders remain closed.
Vanuatu will not open their maritime borders any time soon. John Hembrow of the Down Under Rally says his contacts have suggested that when Vanuatu does open borders it is likely it will be a ‘soft’ opening with perhaps Efate opening first and then maybe Tanna and Santo after a period of time. “I must emphasise that this is not an official position, it is only what I was informed when I last corresponded with our contacts in Vanuatu. With under 25% of the eligible population being fully vaccinated as of 20th December 2021, I expect it will be quite some time before we will be able to visit Vanuatu and cruise there without movement restrictions being imposed.”
COVID continues to spread in New Caledonia with the surge in case numbers attributed to the Omicron variant getting into the country. Air borders opened on December 1, 2021 to visitors from countries with a similar vaccination policy, but maritime borders remain closed. There is an exemption policy for yachts needing to make a stopover for supplies and/or repairs, however crew are confined to the yacht and cannot go ashore.
New Zealand remains closed, only accepting foreign yachts under the exemption scheme which involves alot of paperwork and a commitment to spend $50,000 on repairs. NZ has just gone to a “Red Light” setting following the first detections of the Omicron variant in the community.
Only Australian citizens and permanent residents can enter Australia by sea. Foreign nationals arriving by sea must still apply for and be granted an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs to enter Australia. There has been some good news this month, however, in regard to a relaxation of quarantine requirements: for those arriving with an exemption, if fully vaccinated no quarantine is required, just testing on arrival.
In the North Pacific Kiribati announced a lockdown and 24 hour curfew after 36 people on a repatriation flight from Fiji were found to have the virus. It was the first such flight between the nations in months. Radio New Zealand Pacific reported that while all the cases were in quarantine on the island, four cases had been detected in the community. The Government have extended the border closure until at least the end of February 2022.
The majority of other North Pacific islands are also closed including the Marshall Islands and FSM.
Open Maritime Borders:
For now in the South Pacific the same countries as last year remain open to international yachts. All have strict entry policies.
Galapagos requires use of an agent, vaccination certificate and pre-departure test.
French Polynesia maritime borders are still officially closed, however, application to enter can be made with DPAM prior to departure for the Islands. If all crew are fully vaccinated there is no need to demonstrate imperative need to enter.
Fiji remains open under the Blue Lanes scheme to vaccinated yacht crew. The government has just re-opened schools despite a worsening third wave of infections due to Omicron and Delta variants.
In the North Pacific Guam, Palau and Hawaii are open to international yachts.
In light of the spread of COVID-19 into the Pacific, Jeremy Wyatt, Director of the World Cruising Club organisers of World ARC, has announced that they will not be leading any groups of boats into the Pacific in 2022.
“The small island nations of the Pacific region are significantly behind Europe and North America in terms of adapting to ‘living with COVID’ and we anticipate borders remaining closed to maritime arrivals for many more months yet,” he said. “This also has a knock-on effect for locations which are open, meaning cruisers can’t move around easily and anchorages are crowded.”
Island Cruising NZ are planning to run a Pacific Rally from NZ this year. Departing from Northland in May, the Pacific Rally will sail to the pristine Minerva Reefs and then continue on to Fiji where rally participants will spread out and spend four months exploring at their own pace. From there, maritime borders permitting, they will sail on to New Caledonia, with a possible stopover in Vanuatu along the way. In October, rally participants can either return home to New Zealand or continue on to Australia by joining the Go West Down Under Rally.
Organiser Viki Moore is aware just how important it is to be flexible and wait until yachts are welcome in these smaller Pacific nations. “So at this stage – the rally is to Fiji” organiser Viki Moore told us. “And if Vanuatu and New Caledonia open we will add them on as extra legs as I’d like to show us their support if they open and are keen for us to come.” Registrations for the Rally opened yesterday. Find out more at www.islandcruising.nz.
John Hembrow of the Down Under Rally comments; “At this stage, we have the Go East Rally from Australia to New Caledonia on pause. We are waiting on an update from New Caledonia about when their maritime border will open to visiting yachts. We have received no official indication as to when that might happen, so any suggestions as to a time frame are nothing other than conjecture and opinions at this stage. As for other Pacific rallies, in 2022 the same goes – we will wait until borders are OPEN and then revisit the rally options.”
Please follow the country links to review full Covid protocols in the biosecurity sections for each country.
- Kiribati heading into Lockdown as Cases Emerge in Community (Radio New Zealand)
- Six New COVID Cases Confirmed in Samoa (Radio New Zealand)
Related to following destinations: American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Galapagos, Guam, Hawaii, Japan, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Northern Marianas, Palau (Belau), Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu
Related to the following Cruising Resources: COVID-19, Pacific Crossing, Pacific Ocean South, Routing
and like in Kiribati the people coming home were jabbed and boosted, tested and retested AND quarantined. So when is it going to end… when the good people of this planet says it does. Stay free!