Vaccinated population in Pacific key to unlocking borders

Health Watch

THE ongoing impacts of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), elections in Fiji and Papua New Guinea and unfinished business as to regionalism and self-determination will all play their part this year, Dr Tess Newton Cain predicts.
Cain, the project lead for the Pacific Hub at Griffith Asia Institute, said: “The extent to which Pacific populations are vaccinated will be the key to if and when borders can be unlocked.
“Even in countries where the vaccine roll-out has been very successful, there is little being said about when booster shots will be widely available. In countries where there is still much work to do in getting most people protected, the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccines will be warmly welcomed.
“The low rate of vaccination in Papua New Guinea will continue to be a challenge for the country, especially if another wave of infections occur.
“Whilst there may have been plans across the region to begin opening borders in the early part of this year, they will likely be suspended until more is known about the Omicron variant.”
Cain said tourism businesses would be hard hit as before, and exporters would continue to face higher freight costs.
She said the national elections would be held against a back-drop of serious economic and budget constraints, the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 on an unvaccinated population and concerns about safety and electoral probity.
Cain said the future line-up of the Pacific Islands Forum would be a major talking point as the 12-month notice period of withdrawal was nearing its end for all five Micronesian members who signalled their departures last year.
“When it comes to questions of self-determination and independence, there are some major sticking points to overcome,” she said.
“In Bougainville, President (Ishmael) Toroama has made it abundantly clear that he wants the issue of his people’s independence resolved sooner rather than later.
“However, the June elections in Papua New Guinea are likely to put talks and planning on hold until later.” Cain said the third referendum on independence in New Caledonia held in December had left the French territory in “something of a political limbo”.

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