As a distant nation within the Pacific, the Marshall Islands had been virtually utterly spared from Covid-19, registering only a handful of instances all through the pandemic, with no group transmission detected.
However in simply over per week, greater than 4,000 individuals have examined optimistic in a inhabitants of about 60,000, together with the nation’s secretary of well being and human companies, Jack Niedenthal. He has been offering updates on Fb and stated 75 % of these examined in Majuro, the capital, had Covid, “an extremely excessive positivity fee.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Niedenthal stated there was some panic and concern, provided that the islands, about midway between Hawaii and the Philippines, had not recorded a single Covid case final 12 months.
“So individuals have been pondering, ‘Hey, these guys actually know what they’re doing,’” he stated. “The issue is individuals began eager to journey, they missed their family members, some leaders traveled.”
As life started to return to regular, maintaining the virus out was unattainable, he stated. Mr. Niedenthal anticipated the case rely to proceed rising, given the dense inhabitants. “The subsequent three to 4 days are going to be fairly tough,” he stated.
Lots of of well being care staff have been among the many contaminated. On the hospital in Majuro, immunizations have been halted as a result of virtually your entire crew was out, a lot of the medical document keepers have been out, and the housecleaning employees was decreased to at least one individual, he stated.
On Aug. 10, Mr. Niedenthal known as well being care staff again to work even when they examined optimistic, saying they’d be screened and wouldn’t work together with sufferers. He stated it was a drastic measure that “has been taken all through the world and the Pacific as Covid numbers rise rapidly and we’re left with no different alternative.”
Hospitalizations and deaths are likely to lag behind case numbers, however as of this week there had been few extreme instances, together with six deaths.
The inhabitants is extremely vaccinated: 72 % are totally vaccinated in Majuro, and 61 % have boosters, in response to authorities information. The Marshall Islands closed its borders in early March 2020, taking extra drastic measures than its neighbors on the time. It was one of many final locations on the planet to get its first instances, when two vacationers have been quarantined in October 2020.
Mr. Niedenthal stated the primary recognized instances of the present outbreak have been amongst a gaggle of youngsters who had no journey historical past or recognized contact with anybody who had been in quarantine. “So we knew we have been in hassle, as a result of they got here from a crowded group,” he stated.
He stated that over the previous few days, individuals have been fearful, however that there was a powerful sense of group on the islands. “It’s not like panic within the U.S. the place all people is shopping for rest room paper,” he stated.
And in contrast to early within the pandemic, the islands now have entry to Covid remedies, like Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment proven to forestall critical Covid instances, despatched by the U.S. authorities. Representatives from the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention arrived on the island in latest days to help with the response.
Different governments have pitched in: Taiwan donated hundreds of masks, protecting robes and different hygiene merchandise, whereas American Samoa despatched shipments of Paxlovid. The Australian authorities has offered protecting tools, testing kits, masks and face shields.
Angeline Heine Reimers, a authorities employee in Majuro, stated catching the virus had grow to be virtually “unavoidable.” Many individuals dwell in multifamily houses, she stated, including that 15 of the 16 individuals who dwell in her home had contracted the virus.
“The great factor is that each one of us had been vaccinated,” stated Ms. Heine Reimers, 46, including that every of their instances had been gentle. Many Marshallese dwell with comorbidities that place them at increased danger if they’re sickened, and the Marshall Islands has one of many highest charges of diabetes on this planet, in response to information compiled by the World Financial institution. “Everyone is simply actually scared,” Ms. Heine Reimers stated.
Marie Davis Milne, the mayor of Ebon Atoll, about 240 miles southwest of Majuro, stated that the authorities have been attempting to forestall the unfold of the virus by stopping most planes and ships that journey between neighboring islands.
She stated that previously few days, she had volunteered at testing websites on Majuro, the place some individuals had waited below the new solar for hours. “Even when it rains they don’t transfer,” Ms. Davis Milne stated. “They don’t need to lose their place in line.”
Jenny Gross and Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed reporting.