Covid has reached one of the few coronavirus-free countries left on earth, after authorities on the remote Marshall Islands confirmed two infections.
Two American military personnel visiting the Pacific island chain have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The unnamed 35-year-old woman and 46-year-old man were workers at a US military base on Kwajalein Atoll and arrived on the same flight from Hawaii earlier this week.
Authorities stressed the infections were “border cases” and the pair were being held in strict quarantine without having had any contact with locals. The two Americans had tested negative before they left Hawaii and were not showing symptoms.
A statement from the chief secretary said there was no risk of community transmission and so no need to lockdown schools or businesses. Pacific island nations moved quickly to isolate themselves at the start of the pandemic amid fears their poor health systems would make them particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.
Many of the nations also have high levels of conditions including diabetes and obesity which can lead to more serious bouts of the illness. The strategy appears to have worked and the remote island nations and territories of Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are believed to be still free of the virus.
The Solomon Islands recorded its first case at the start of October. The Marshalls, a chain of volcanic islands and atolls in the central Pacific, had eased restrictions to allow in some workers as long as they underwent strict quarantine at the Kwajalein garrison.
The relaxation had been unpopular with some officials. Ebon Atoll Mayor Marie Davis Milne, a critic of border relaxation, said confirmation of Covid-19 cases was a blow for the nation of almost 80,000.
"Now lives are going to be put on hold because a handful of people made the decisions they did for whatever reasons,” she posted on social media. "Life as we all knew it will be in limbo until further notice because of the choices of a few."
Some Pacific islands have been badly hit in previous pandemics, despite their isolation. Western Samoa lost around 8,500 people, or a fifth of its population, during the 1918 flu pandemic when a steamship from New Zealand disembarked infected passengers.
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