Micronesia experience first COVID-19 outbreak, causing alarm
Wellington (New Zealand)- Micronesia experiencing first outbreak of COVID-19 grew in one week to more than 1,000 cases by Tuesday, causing alarm in the Pacific island nation.
Last week, Micronesia likely became the final nation in the world with a population of more than 100,000 to experience an outbreak of the disease after avoiding it for 2 1/2 years, thanks to its geographic isolation and border controls.
Health officials said cases were rapidly increasing. It reported 140 new cases Monday, bringing the total to 1,261, including some cases caught at the border before the outbreak.
Officials said that eight people had been hospitalized, and one older man had died.
Officials said that many top lawmakers and senior officials had caught the disease, including Vice President Yosiwo George, who was hospitalized. They said the vice president’s condition was improving.
Camille Movick, whose family owns Fusion Restaurant in Pohnpei State, told The Associated Press that many people have been posting on Facebook, asking, for instance, that others stay away from their homes.
“Initially, there was quite a bit of panic and worry with most people,” she said.
She said her restaurant remained open, although business was slow because many people were afraid to dine in. She said other restaurants had closed their dining rooms and only offered takeaway services.
Movick said authorities had issued a directive that all people must wear masks in public — even outdoors — and that they faced fines of $1,000 for noncompliance.
She said one positive outcome was the outbreak had prompted many previously unvaccinated people to get their shots.
She said many suspected the virus might have been circulating before the first community case was confirmed last week because health authorities weren’t routinely testing patients for the disease.
Last year, Micronesia became one of the few countries to impose a broad mandate requiring all eligible citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The government threatened to withhold federal funds from individuals or business owners who didn’t follow the rules. Health officials said this week that 75% of people aged five and over were fully vaccinated.
Movick said many parts of society were continuing to function as before, including many working from their offices.
“We’re hoping things get back to normal soon,” Movick said. “Like in other countries, they’ve gotten over it over time and lifted the restrictions.”