Vanuatu’s main island Efate, and its surrounding islands, are in lockdown after the country’s first COVID-19 case was detected in the community.
The outbreak first began in the country’s quarantine facilities, and contact tracing is underway to uncover details of the community case.
Vanuatu’s Health Minister Silas Bule, who has been been transferred to the Ministry of Climate Change and has been replaced by Bruno Leingkone, said international and domestic travel in and out of Efate have also been suspended in response to the outbreak.
“After our strong efforts at the Ministry of Health, and from all our government frontline agencies to protect us from COVID-19 … the Ministry of Health confirms the first community outbreak of COVID-19,” Minister Bule said.
“All investigations into the case and contact tracing are now underway.”
Anne Pakoa, CEO and founder of Vanuatu’s Human Rights Coalition said people on the ground were “paranoid” about the situation.
She was particularly concerned for those struggling to make ends meet during the lockdown.
“The other side of the population that don’t have much and they have to choose between either buying a mask, or a bar of soap, or bread or rice,” she said.
Vanuatu’s vaccination rates are low across the country, with around 48 percent of eligible adults fully vaccinated.
There is concern that if the virus spreads to remote communities with low protection rates, the outbreak could cause serious illness.
Pakoa was “very worried”, but said the health system was well-supported, with everyday ni-Vanuatu putting up their hands to volunteer support.
“It just gives me this assurance that there is a lot of people out there that care,” she said.
“There’s people who are not professional, but they’re ready to step in and provide support to the healthcare team if this situation gets worse.
“So I’m really proud of the spirit of solidarity,” said Pakoa.