Like many Pacific Islands, the French dependency of New Caledonia has restricted the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus through strong border controls, strict quarantine for overseas travellers and policies for physical distancing and lock-down. But now, this success is threatened by the passage of French legislation that overrides local regulations.
With the exception of Wallis and Futuna, all French “overseas collectivities” have seen cases of COVID-19, mainly from incoming overseas travellers or returning citizens. But the scale of the pandemic is completely different between metropolitan France and its overseas dependencies.
By mid-May, France had more than 142,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, with 27,500 deaths. In contrast, New Caledonia has seen just 18 confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19, after local authorities managed to close the borders and halt further spread of the coronavirus. At time of writing, only one person of the 18 confirmed cases remains in hospital and there have not been any new cases for more than a month.
The disparity between New Caledonia’s success and the crisis in France highlights ongoing tension over policy, with New Caledonian leaders eager to maintain strict policies that have avoided the catastrophe seen in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.