THE Pacific island of Kiribati has gone into lockdown after staying Covid-free when it welcomed the first international flight in months that brought the virus in.
The remote island went into its first lockdown on Saturday after two-thirds of passengers tested positive for Covid-19 and four cases were found in the community.
The Fiji Airways flight from Fiji to Kiribati’s capital of South Tarawa was the first flight to island getaway in 10 months after the government reopened its borders.
Of the 54 holidaymakers who landed last Friday, 36 tested positive, prompting the government to cobble together a quarantine facility for all of them.
Now it’s issued an island-wide lockdown from Saturday after officials confirmed four more cases outside the group of quarantined passengers.
Officials confirmed that a guard at the facility tested positive on Tuesday and that two of his close contact in nearby Bouta village were self-isolating while another two cases were detected in the community.
On Friday, Kiribati officials confirmed in a statement that a fourth had emerged.
From Saturday, islanders will experience their first ever lockdown after remaining Covid-free for most of the pandemic.
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Locals will be under curfew and won’t be able to leave their homes unless it is for essential work or to access emergency services. Schools will also be shut.
According to the government, passengers on the flight from Fiji had quarantined for two weeks before leaving and had undergone Covid tests – raising questions about how they got the virus.
All passengers had been vaccinated.
Locals are now fearing the worst for their beloved island.
School teacher and dad-of-three Kareaua Nawaia, 32, told The Guardian: “As parents, we are worried about our children because unlike us, they are unvaccinated and have no access to one [a vaccine] on the island.”
Dr Tabutoa Eria slammed the government for being too slow to impose a lockdown.
He wrote on Facebook: “It might [be] too late if you [the lockdown] come next week. Our beloved n beautiful people please avoid unnecessary movements. Virus won’t move if we don’t.”
Last month, 93.4 per cent of over-18s on the island had had one dose of the Covid vaccine while only 53.1 per cent were double-jabbed, according to the Kiribati government, which is urging people to get vaccinated.
It said: “During this difficult and challenging situation, the Government appeals to elders, church, island councils, community and youth leaders for their support and cooperation in order to protect and safeguard our health and nation.
“The only way that we could fight this virus is to through complete vaccination and therefore, the public is urged to complete their vaccination doses in order to protect themselves and families.
“It is critical that all work together and trust each other to do our part in combating this pandemic.”
Like most remote islands in the region, Kiribati has adopted a “zero Covid” policy by imposing travel bans.