Kiribati has recorded its highest daily increase in new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, bringing the total number of positive cases to 629.

The Health Ministry said that there were 169 Covid-19 cases – 155 of them from South Tarawa, Betio and Buota and 14 in Butaritari.

Health Minister Tinte Itinteang has warned that the positive Covid-19 cases recorded in the country is just the “tip of the iceberg”.

The government has confirmed that Omicron is the dominant variant spreading across the islands.

Itinteang said it is a challenging time for the people of the remote Pacific Island nation which has been badly hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The country has been in a state of lockdown since 22 January in an effort to minimise the spread of the virus, forcing the government to extend the State of Disaster until the end of this month.

Minister Itinteang said Kiribati is fortunate that there have not been any critically unwell individuals due to Covid-19.

He also confirmed that only people who are close contacts of those who have tested positive are being tested.

“We do not have the luxury that countries like New Zealand and Australia have in terms of just random testing. Here we try and be a little bit more targeted because of our ability or the number of tests that we are able to run,” he said.

UNICEF Pacific said the Covid-19 outbreak in Kiribati is worrying given the rapid increase in cases and the population density in the capital, Tarawa.

The UN agency has been supporting the Government of Kiribati to build the capacity of their frontline workers and strengthen their health systems.

Health and Nutrition specialist Dr Frances Vulivuli said that the community outbreak has increased the demand for vaccination.

She said they are working with local authorities to boost the coverage of the vaccines.

“We’ve supported the government in ensuring that the rollout and they actually have access to Covid-19 vaccines in the outer islands.”

Dr Vulivuli believes the country is in a better position to respond to this outbreak.

“They’ve had an opportunity to learn from neighbouring countries, to learn from other countries around the world in how to respond to Covid-19 compared to where we were two years ago, where everything was new and everyone was learning at the same pace on how to manage Covid-19,” she said.