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.