When Tropical Cyclone Harold meets the Novel Corona Virus

DISPATCH FROM THE PACIFIC: By Professor Elisabeth Holland. She writes from a remote island in Fiji’s Koro Sea where she went to stay out of the way of Covid-19, as named by the World Health Organisation (WHO), or SARS-CoV-2, as named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The island is in the Lomaviti archipelago. It is a short boat trip from Makogai, a leper colony tended by the Catholic sisters until the 1960s, a promising place to avoid Covid.

On Easter Sunday, Fiji had 16 cases of Covid-19 (see Fiji clusters image). Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama announced Fiji’s first confirmed case of Covid on 19 March, 2020 – a flight attendant on a Fiji Airways flight from San Francisco to Nadi who roamed around Lautoka and attending Zumba class before feeling ill.

The Fiji announcement was made within a week of the arrival of the WHO test kits. An isolation unit, just outside of the capital city Suva had been staffed since January, along with a test facility set up in February.

Coincident with the announcement of the first Covid case, Prime Minister Bainimarama announced the suspension of all Fiji Airways flights through May 29, a 14-day lockdown of the port city of Lautoka, isolation of the ill patient. his family and close contacts with thorough contact tracing, a 10pm to 5am curfew, a ban on gatherings of more than 20 people, and a call for social distancing.

With case number 5, inter-island transport of people was suspended to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among the islands.

On Thursday, April 2, with the announcement of cases 6 and 7 – haircutters in two separate popular local hair salons – Suva was locked down, and contact sports, including touch rugby, a national pastime, and social gatherings, including customary kava gatherings, were forbidden.

The curfew was extended from 8pm to 5am. The contact tracing for case #9, father of case #7 identified 830 contacts.

A woman and her son, with a history of possible Covid exposure, arrived on our remote island at 10pm on April 2, potentially compromising the health of 139 people on the island who had just completed a 14-day island quarantine.

The violation of the ban on interisland transport plus subsequent quarantine violations made the national news. Hundreds of people have been charged for quarantine and curfew violations.

Two rugby players were arrested and placed in isolation after violating quarantine restrictions.

On April 16, Fiji extended the quarantine period from 14 to 28 days for returning citizens and 28 days of isolation for positive Covid-19 cases.

According to the WHO situation report #83 released on April 12, Easter Sunday, 16 Pacific countries and territories remained free of confirmed Covid-19 cases: American Samoa, Cook Islands ??, Federated States of Micronesia ?? , Kiribati ??, Nauru ??, Niue ??, Palau ??, Pitcairn, Republic of the Marshall Islands ??, Samoa ??, Solomon Islands ??, Tokelau ??, Tonga ??, Tuvalu ??, Vanuatu ??, and Wallis and Futuna.

By April 22, independent Pacific island countries of Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste have seven and 23 confirmed cases of Covid-19 respectively.

By comparison, the French associated territories of French Polynesia have 56 cases, and New Caledonia has 18 cases. The US territories of the Northern Mariana Islands has 14 Covid-19 cases (two deaths), and Guam, home to a US military base, reported 136 Covid-19 cases (5 deaths). However, the April 12 issue of The New York Times reports 585 cases on the USS Theodore Roosevelt docked in Guam, including the now famous Captain Crozier, fired for speaking up on behalf of his men.

Covid-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold
With Fiji, the Pacific and the world anxious about Covid, Tropical Cyclone Harold spun into existence and began its devastating Easter path across the Pacific. Imagine trying to practise shelter at home and social distancing while simultaneously preparing for a tropical cyclone that was gaining ferocity.

Windows were boarded, evacuation centers were prepared and adequate food and clean water were secured where possible. Generators were serviced and tested.

In early April, while awaiting confirmation of the first case of Covid-19, the Solomon Islands government ordered city dwellers to return to their home villages to reduce the density of people in the capital of Honiara in Guadalcanal and to provide security of place.

On April 4, some 600 Are Are residents of Honiara and Malaita boarded the MV Taemarehu ferry to make their way home.

MV Taemarehu ran into the rough seas generated by Tropical Cyclone Harold, then rated as category one. Twenty-seven people were washed overboard and reported missing.

Solomon Islands has no confirmed cases of Covid, partly due the difficulty of transporting tests to Australia when all aircraft into and out of the Solomon Islands are grounded. The situation is beautifully described in an article by the ever insightful Transform Aqorau, the Solomon Islands permanent representative to the UN, now stranded in New York City.

By Monday, April 6, Tropical Cyclone Harold had intensified to category 5 (Australian scale) with wind speeds in excess of 198 km/h. Four northern islands of the independent nation of Vanuatu: Santo, Pentecost, Ambrym, and Malo were directly hit by the TC Harold.


Cross-Chapter Box 3: Governance of the Ocean, Coasts and the Cryosphere under Climate Change

This Cross-Chapter Box outlines governance and associated institutional challenges and emerging solutions relevant to the ocean, coasts and cryosphere in a changing climate. It illustrates these through three cases: (Case 1) multi-level interactions in Ocean and Arctic governance; (Case 2) mountain governance; and (Case 3) coastal risk governance.