Covid Live Updates: Virtually No Place on Earth Can Escape Omicron’s Spread

Credit…Josh Haner/The New York Times

For more than two years, as the coronavirus washed across most nations in wave after wave of infection, the virus failed to reach some of the most remote islands dotting the Pacific Ocean. Even as cases emerged in places as remote as Antarctica, these islands — through geographic isolation and stringent policies — remained mostly untouched by the pathogen.

No longer.

As the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads with a speed and infectiousness unmatched in the pandemic, it has found a foothold in a number of island nations.

Some are recording their first cases spreading in the local population since the pandemic began. Others that have maintained single-digit caseloads for much of the pandemic are watching with alarm as local outbreaks spread.

One of the most drastic examples is Kiribati, a collection of atolls and reef islands scattered across an area of the Pacific Ocean about twice the size of Alaska.

The country of roughly 119,000 people has kept its borders shut for much of the pandemic. Until recently, it had recorded only two Covid cases from a returning ship in May. The crew was quarantined and no outbreak was recorded.

But when the first international flight to enter Kiribati in 10 months arrived last week from Fiji, 36 passengers tested positive for the virus. The infection later spread to a security worker at a quarantine center and two other people, according to the national broadcaster, Radio Kiribati.

Now Tarawa, the capital, will go into lockdown on Monday. Most residents will be able to leave their homes only to buy food. All workplaces will be shut except for those providing essential and emergency services.

In Tonga, where aid workers are rushing to deliver lifesaving supplies after a volcanic eruption set off a tsunami that devastated the island nation, recovery efforts have been complicated by its coronavirus-free status.

Credit…By Jugal Patel

The nation has reported only one coronavirus case throughout the pandemic, and the local authorities have expressed concerns about letting in foreign aid workers who might be carrying the virus.

The Solomon Islands also reported its first community transmissions this week. The source was a boat that arrived illegally on the island of Ontong Java from Papua New Guinea carrying an infected passenger, the authorities said.

“Fellow Solomon Islanders, what we have feared has happened,” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said on Tuesday. “We now have community transmission of Covid-19 in Ontong Java.”

“Expect the numbers of infected people to grow rapidly in the coming days and weeks,” he added. “Expect some people could get seriously sick. And also expect some people could even lose their lives.”

A day later, community transmission was detected in the capital, Honiara, forcing the authorities there to impose a snap lockdown. As of Friday, there were 169 positive cases in the country but only 56 beds available for Covid patients.

Palau has also recently reported a coronavirus outbreak after nearly two virus-free years. As of Friday, there were 183 active cases and more than 600 people in quarantine. The country has suspended schools for two weeks and imposed a ban on community gatherings.

And Samoa is considering canceling repatriation flights after a plane from Australia landed in the country carrying 10 passengers who tested positive. They are all isolating, and there is no indication yet that the virus has spread into the community.

Still, the cases represent the highest number of coronavirus cases that the island nation has seen since the start of the pandemic. Previously, Samoa had reported just two cases in quarantine.

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