Pacific island of Vanuatu records its FIRST Covid-19 case – a local who had just returned from the US via Australia
- A 23-year-old man tested positive while in quarantine after his flight to Vanuatu
- Authorities will isolate his fellow passengers but not impose a wider lockdown
- It means Vanuatu loses its place on the list of countries with no cases of Covid-19
Vanuatu today announced its first ever case of Covid-19, ending the Pacific island’s status as one of the last few uncontaminated places in the world.
Health officials said a 23-year-old islander who recently returned from the United States had tested positive while in quarantine.
He was asymptomatic when he returned to Vanuatu on November 4, but his infection was picked up in routine testing on Tuesday.
Authorities plan to quarantine his fellow passengers and trace his close contacts, but will not impose drastic lockdown measures in the nation of 300,000 people which has yet to see any community transmission of the disease.
An aerial view of Vanuatu which today announced its first ever case of Covid-19, giving up its place on the list of the world’s last uncontaminated countries
The last countries with no confirmed cases of Covid-19
Pacific island nations swiftly isolated themselves early in the pandemic, despite the economic cost, fearing that their poor health infrastructure made them particularly vulnerable.
Vanuatu closed its borders in March in a bid to keep the pandemic at bay, and has only recently begun allowing strictly-controlled repatriation flights.
‘I want to assure the public and citizens of this country that this situation is under control,’ prime minister Bob Loughman told the nation.
The infected man had travelled from the United States via Sydney and Auckland, but was isolated from other passengers because he had been in a high-risk location.
Loughman said he would not put restrictions on public gatherings, close schools or ask people to work from home.
But some domestic travel could be restricted, the country’s mandatory quarantine for returnees was set to be doubled to 28 days, and citizens could have to show negative test results within 72 hours before departure.
‘The timely and hard closure of Vanuatu’s borders has bought them crucial time to plan and act strategically,’ Australia-based public health expert Lana Elliott said.
The government’s actions, she said, ‘kept their population safer than just about any other country on earth’.
The Solomon Islands and Marshall Islands lost their virus-free status last month, although, like Vanuatu, they have so far avoided community transmission.
The remote island nations and territories of Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu are believed to still be free of the virus.
The last few places in the world with no confirmed cases of coronavirus include a handful of Pacific Islands, North Korea, and research stations in Antarctica (pictured in a file photo)
North Korea also claims to have had no cases of coronavirus, although this has been met with scepticism by experts.
Kim Jong-un’s regime imposed a lockdown on the border town of Kaesong in July amid fears that a returning defector had the virus, but it was never confirmed.
Turkmenistan has similarly claimed to be virus-free, although a US embassy alert in June cast doubt on this.
Like North Korea, the gas-rich desert nation is one of the world’s most tightly-controlled and isolated countries.
Research stations in Antarctica are also free of the virus, although scientific work on the southern continent has been disrupted by the pandemic.
Countries with Antarctic programmes warned in March that the harsh weather and limited public health facilities could be a disaster if the virus reached the continent.
The astronauts on the International Space Station have also steered clear of the virus, having been quarantined before they blasted off from Earth.