Marshall Islands, Once Nearly Covid-Free, Confronts an Outbreak

The Marshall Islands, a remote area of ​​the Pacific, were almost completely immune from Covid-19, registering only a handful of cases throughout the pandemic and detecting no community transmission.

But in just over a week, more than 4,000 people in a population of about 60,000 have tested positive, including Jack Niedenthal, the country’s health and human services secretary. Update on Facebook It said 75% of those tested in the capital Majuro had Covid, an “incredibly high positive rate”.

In an interview on Tuesday, Niedenthal said there was panic and concern given that the islands, roughly halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines, didn’t record a single Covid case last year.

“So people were thinking, ‘These guys really know what they’re doing,'” he said. “The problem is people want to travel. They miss their loved ones and some leaders have traveled.”

He said it was impossible to keep the virus out when life began to return to normal. Niedenthal expected the number of cases to continue to rise given the dense population. “The next three to four days are going to be pretty tough,” he said.

Hundreds of health care workers were infected. Immunization has been suspended in Majuro hospitals. He said that was because nearly the entire team was absent, most medical record holders were absent, and the house cleaning staff was reduced to one of him.

Niedenthal said on August 10 that even if the test results were positive, he would encourage health workers to return to work, screen them and avoid contact with patients. He said it was a drastic measure “that is being taken around the world and across the Pacific because Covid numbers are rising rapidly and there is no other option.”

Hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag behind the number of cases, but as of this week there have been very few severe cases, including six deaths.

Government data show 72% are fully vaccinated and 61% have boosters in Majuro. The Marshall Islands closed its borders in her early March 2020, taking more drastic measures than neighboring countries at the time. She was one of the last places on earth where the first cases occurred. 2 travelers quarantined Before spreading in October 2020.

Niedenthal said the first confirmed cases in the current outbreak were a group of teenagers with no travel history and no known contact with people who had been quarantined. “They came from a crowded community, so we knew we were in trouble,” he said.

He said people have been feeling unsafe in recent days, but there is a strong sense of community on the island. said.

And unlike earlier in the pandemic, the islands now have access to Covid treatments like Paxlovid, an antiviral drug that has been shown to prevent severe Covid cases sent by the U.S. government.U.S. Disease Control A representative from the prevention center recently arrived on the island to assist in the response.

Taiwan donated thousands of masks, protective clothing and other hygiene items, while American Samoa sent a shipment of Pax Lovid. The Australian Government provides personal protective equipment, test kits, masks and face shields.

Angeline Heine Reimers, a government official in Majuro, said contracting the virus had become almost “inevitable”. Many people live in apartment complexes, she said, adding that 15 of the 16 people living in her home have contracted the virus.

“The good thing is that we were all vaccinated,” said Heine Reimers, 46, adding that each case was mild. Living with rising comorbidities, the Marshall Islands has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. According to data compiled by the World Bank“Everyone is really scared,” said Heine Reimers.

Marie Davis Milne, mayor of Ebon Atoll, about 240 miles southwest of Majuro, said authorities are trying to contain the spread of the virus by halting most flights and ships traveling between neighboring islands. said.

She said she had been volunteering at a proving ground in Majuro for the past few days. There, some people waited for hours in the hot sun. “They don’t want to lose their turn.”

Jenny Gross When Livia Albek-Lipka contributed to the report.

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