Covid outbreak forces New Caledonia into snap two-week lockdown

Tontouta international airport
New Caledonia's Tontouta international airport ... a two-week lockdown in the territory starting on Monday evening. Image: Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes

Asia Pacific Report

New Caledonia, one of the Pacific territories to have avoided the covid-19 pandemic so far, is to go into strict two-week lockdown after detecting nine cases, reports Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes.

The outbreak on the French archipelago was detected after a school headteacher fell ill on the Wallis and Futuna islands leading authorities to screen for cases, France 24 reports citing AFP.

“According to the first indications, the patient developed symptoms in mid-February and could have been infectious in Wallis and Futuna from the end of January,” the president of the terrotorial government in New Caledonia, Thierry Santa, told reporters.

Travel between the two French territories had previously been unrestricted, while anyone arriving from elsewhere had to undergo a strict 14-day quarantine in a hotel.

Santa announced a two-week lockdown for New Caledonia starting from Monday evening, to “break the transmission of the virus while there is still time”.

The islands had previously succeeded in stopping community transmission of the novel coronavirus, which has reached almost all corners of the globe.

New Caledonia was once used as a penal colony by French authorities owing to its remote location from Europe. It has a population of 288,000 and Wallis and Futuna have a population of 15,000.

RNZ Pacific reports it is almost a year since the first covid-19 case was diagnosed in French Polynesia. This was also was the first in the Pacific Islands.

Maina Sage, a member of the French National Assembly, brought the virus from Paris, triggering a sharp lockdown.

But once the virus had been eliminated, Tahiti and its island opened for tourists but saw covid-19 spread throughout the community and infect thousands.

Now the borders have again been shut on orders from Paris.

French Polynesia has had 18,452 covid cases and 140 deaths. The population is 280,000.

Laurent Prévost and Thierry Santa
New Caledonian High Commissioner Laurent Prévost and territorial president Thierry Santa (right) speaking at the media conference in Noumea last night. Image: Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes
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