NZ sends aid to Covid-stricken Vanuatu as outbreak deepens


There’s been a rush to vaccination centres in Vanuatu with the whole country now in lockdown as Covid-19 spreads from the main island.

Up until this week it had managed to keep the virus out of the country with strict border controls over the past two years. The outbreak started late last week with a hotel quarantine breach, the health ministry says.

Daily cases shot up to a high of 35 on Wednesday, the Vanuatu government now moving the entire nation to the highest alert level after initially only locking down Efate and nearby islands, including capital Port Vila.

“This means Covid-19 cases are in several islands of Vanuatu. All Vanuatu is in lockdown,” a statement read.

A night-time curfew is in place and only essential services are open. The head of the Vanuatu Red Cross Dickinson Tevi told ABC News the virus is “spreading fast”.

“There’s a lot of panic going around and uncertainty because this is really new for us,” he said.

“We hope it’s not going to lead to another disaster but we can see the potential.”

There are 83 active cases in the country, with one person requiring hospital-level care. Only around half of the eligible population has had two doses of the vaccine, while any information on boosters wasn’t immediately available.

New Zealand’s now committed $1.5 million (US$1 million) to support the Vanuatu government and is looking at sending further medical supplies in addition to five oxygen humidifiers that arrived last week.

“Aotearoa New Zealand notes with concern the growth in confirmed cases of community transmission in Vanuatu and our continued thoughts are with all affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in Vanuatu,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told 1News.

“We remain in close contact with the Vanuatu Government and our partners on the ground and Aotearoa New Zealand stands ready to respond to further requests for assistance.”

The New Zealand High Commission in Port Vila is telling any Kiwis there to make contact if they need help.

“The best way to protect yourself, your family and your community is to stay home and follow the advice of local authorities,” a statement read.

It comes as the World Health Organisation marks two years since declaring Covid-19 a pandemic.

The UN body’s director-general singled out the region in his remarks from Geneva, Switzerland.

“Many countries in Asia and the Pacific are facing surges of Covid-19 cases and deaths. The virus continues to evolve, and we continue to face major obstacles in distributing vaccines, tests and treatments everywhere they are needed,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

New Zealand is currently in the midst of what’s believed to be its Omicron peak, with border restrictions gradually relaxing.

“The pandemic is far from over and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” Ghebreyesus said.

Niue is the latest previously Covid-free country to report a case, after a person with the virus arrived on a flight from New Zealand.