By Michael Field
French Polynesian authorities are conceding the Pacific territory of 280,000 people will probably have 100,000 cases of covid-19 by the end of the year.
Most of those affected will be young Polynesians and authorities seem comforted by this, as their medical system can cope and they expect few deaths.
There are indications of growing anger among unions, media and political parties over French handling of the pandemic in French Polynesia.
Their announcements came as covid has spiked sharply this month and in the wake of a disastrous decision by Papeete administrators to re-open their border to tourists without quarantine.
They justified it on the basis they needed to save their tourism business.
Five people have died so far. Three who died on Monday were aged 69, 77 and 79. They had been in intensive care at Taaone Hospital Center.
French High Commissioner Dominique Sorain this week announced a change of strategy.
Seven day ‘cure’
Now only people with covid symptoms will be tested and they will be considered “cured” if they no longer have symptoms after seven days.
Health Minister Jacques Raynal and Dr Henri-Pierre Mallet say that by cutting it from 14 days to seven days, they will almost halve the number of active cases in the colony.
Raynal stressed the need for social distancing and masks: “We must distance more than ever, scrupulously. Social interactions should be reduced as much as possible with friends, colleagues, uncles, aunts or cousins….
“We must not be deluded… Covid is not going to stop tomorrow morning. There is no way we will talk about containment again….”
Between November and February, authorities estimate that more than 100,000 people could be infected with covid, with a peak in January.
Contact tracing will end under the new measures.
“It will be up to each person positive for covid to contact the people with whom they have been in contact in the two days preceding the onset of symptoms,” Raynal said.
Swab testing limited
PCR swab testing will be limited to only those with symptoms.
Sorain said despite the growing numbers of cases and the increase in hospitalisation, Tahiti hospital could cope: “They can go up to 200 beds to accommodate hospitalised people and 60 intensive care beds.”
He said several new sources of contamination had emerged.
In areas of dense population authorities had sampled 400 people and found more than 100 of them were positive, and most of them had no symptoms.
“This spread of the virus occurred in mostly friendly gatherings… probably in too large a number and where vigilance has been relaxed in terms of barrier gestures,” Sorain said.
He said young people were mainly affected.
“What we must avoid is that this virus reaches the most fragile people: our parents, our grandparents, our friends, already weakened by other diseases.”
The people of French Polynesia needed to protect them, Sorain said.
- According to Worldometer, French Polynesia has had 1469 covid-19 infections and five deaths so far. Recoveries have totalled 1237.
Veteran independent journalist Michael Field has spent much of his career in the South Pacific. Along with contributing to a range of media including Nikkei Asian Review and The Spinoff, he is co-host of The Pacific Newsroom where this article was first published.