The Vanuatu Electoral Commission has hit its worst nightmare as the official results continue to be delayed due to the COVID-19 situation and sadly, the passing of its Electoral Chairman Martin Tete in the early hours today at the Vila Central hospital (VCH).
Tete was reportedly admitted to VCH over the weekend after feeling unwell.
He served the Vanuatu Electoral Office for over a decade. Tete is well-respected for his unimpeachable integrity and is being mourned as died before the official declaration of wining candidates could be made.
He has been an integral part of Vanuatu’s electoral process and his passing will leave a big gap and loss for the country.
The Electoral Office today announced that their office will close until Thursday following the passing of Tete.
Caretaker Minister of Internal Affairs Andrew Napuat said it is a very challenging time for the government and the Ministry he leads: “The global threat in COVID-19 is being managed by the task-force set up by the government.
“Our role regarding elections and the loss of our chairman is to consult the State Law Office to advise us on the legal provisions that we should follow in such situations to ensure we publish the results as required by law.”
Meanwhile, as Vanuatu remains alert over the COVID-19 situation the transportation of ballot boxes from outer islands coming into Port Vila were monitored strictly over COVID-19 fears.
A patrol boat from the Solomon Islands that was in Vanuatu to help with the election has reportedly been isolated with all its crews and force members quarantined after returning from Aneiytum island.
They were quarantined including ballot boxes after reports emerged that a tourist who visited the island tested positive on arrival in Australia after visiting the island on Voyager of the Seas cruise ship this month.
Caretaker Minister Napuat urged the people of Vanuatu to remain calm and assured them that his office is doing everything under the law to ensure the results are published as required.
With the unofficial results now up and the advice from the Ministry of Health and Task force team to avoid social gatherings and maintain social distancing, political lobbying might take a new form where political parties and candidates do away with the traditional way of camping to maintain numbers, and instead ‘camp’ electronically through the use of social media.
To date, caretaker PM Charlot Salwai and Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu appear to have held their seats. Regenvanu's Graon Mo Jastis Party has nine seats, the Reunification Movement for Change has eight, the Leaders Party of Vanuatu also has eight seats, and the Vanua'aku Party has six according to the unofficial count.
President of French Polynesia Edouard Fritch has announced the first case of Covid-19 in Tahiti - the first confirmed case of the coronavirus across the Pacific Islands.
President Fritch said that Maina Sage, French Polynesia’s representative in the French National Assembly, had been confirmed with the virus after returning from Paris on 7 March. Ms. Sage is resting at home in self-isolation in Papeete.
Maina Sage recently served on a National Assembly commission with France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester, who has also been confined in France after contracting Covid-19.
Announcing the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Tahiti, President Fritch reassured people about government plans for monitoring, testing and isolation. He stated, however: “I invite the population to avoid travel outside the country.”
Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron postponed a long-scheduled visit to French Polynesia because of the international health crisis. Macron was due to visit between 16-18 April for a summit with Island leaders, but his trip has been delayed until later this year.
Regional organisations and Pacific governments are preparing for more cases of Covid-19 in the islands region, as the World Health Organisation declares a global pandemic. But many citizens in small island developing states are fearful of the potential stress on medical services. An epidemic of measles across the Pacific last year highlighted the potential for transmission of infectious diseases, adding to existing burdens on public health systems from non-communicable diseases.
The international spread of the virus is starting to affect tourism in the islands – a vital source of revenue and employment. Many island nations have restricted visits by cruise ships and changed air schedules for their national airlines: Air Calédonie International has announced it will reduce the number of scheduled flights to Melbourne and Osaka from May, while Air Tahiti Nui has reduced flights to Japan. In an unprecedented step, the Republic of the Marshall Islands restricted all airline travel into the country for two weeks, until 22 March.
Fijian soldiers returning from peacekeeping duties in Iraq tonight will not be able to meet their relatives immediately after arrival. This is a precaution against the corona Virus, COVID-19.
Iraq has 54 reported COVID-19 cases and four deaths, according to the World Health Organization. All 54 cases entered Iraq from other countries.
A directive from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces has warned relatives that they must report to the army’s camp within the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji compound. “Here they will be briefed on all processes and procedures regarding the arrival of the troops and follow on measures that should be followed after service personnel and their family members are home,” said Colonel Pacolo Luveni , Director Peace Support Operations, in a media release.
“This measure is being taken to minimise disruptions to Nadi Airport operations and to ensure the safety, security and wellbeing of all during the planned arrival of the troops.’’
It is unclear at this stage whether the troops will undergo a 14-day quarantine period before being allowed to return to their homes. The troops will arrive at 6pm after a 12-month tour of duty with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq.
There have been no cases of coronavirus reported in the Pacific Islands region, although Australia and New Zealand have reported cases, and in the case of Australia, one death.
However the Pacific region has responded with a series of travel advisories and requirements.
These are constantly being updated, but here is the most recent series of requirements, as of March 2.
Federated States of Micronesia
Nauru has announced entry restrictions for any travellers who have travelled from or through China in the 21 days prior to traveling to Nauru. The same restriction applies to travel from or through areas with a “publicly stated outbreak” or other areas of outbreak concern specified by the Nauru Ministry of Health and Medical Services.
Wallis and Futuna
An outbreak of a new coronavirus has killed at least 106 people in China, and has spread to some of the Pacific’s close neighbours, including Australia (with five cases) and Malaysia (with four).
The United States, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, France, Vietnam, Canada, Cambodia, Nepal and Germany have also reported cases, but no coronavirus deaths.
Pacific Island nations, several of whom are still reeling from the impact of the recent measles epidemic, have taken action. Here is a regional wrap up:
Wallis and Futuna
It’s not caused by eating bat soup
A video showing online travel host, Wang Mengyun, eating bat soup in Palau has gone viral, prompting racist attacks on the host, Asian communities and widely spread misinformation about how coronavirus spreads.
Symptoms of the virus include: