Regional Wrap Up

COVID-19 continues to affect the region

Whilst the region as a whole has been largely unaffected by severe health impacts that have occurred elsewhere, there are still areas of concern.

In Papua New Guinea, the number of cases and associated deaths is continuing to rise. There is still no confirmation as to when more vaccines will arrive further to an initial supply of 8,000 doses of AstraZeneca donated by Australia.

The health minister, Hon Jelta Wong, recently advised that his government was planning to accept an offer of 200,000 vaccinations from China with a view to inoculating Chinese nationals living in PNG.

Meanwhile, over 100 Fijian peacekeepers who are on a UN mission, including 90 in Iraq have tested positive for COVID-19.

Vaccination programmes are progressing at different rates across the region, with some countries yet to confirm what their plans are or when they will commence inoculating their populations.

Early voting commences in Samoa

Ahead of Samoa’s general elections on April 9, early polling has opened.

Up to 8000 eligible voters are expected to cast their votes in the pre-polling period. Campaigning ended on Saturday at midnight and there will be a ban on the sale of alcohol from Wednesday.

Facebook is working with the Office of the Electoral Commission to promote fair conduct of the elections.

The platform will include a prompt to remind Samoans to vote.

In addition, it is providing access to its advertising library so that people can learn more about the political advertisements they have seen during the election period. Facebook has also said that it will look at removing fake accounts in order to reduce the risk of voters being influenced by misinformation.

There are 189 candidates contesting for the 50 seats available in the Samoa Parliament. This includes 21 female candidates.

Palau – Taiwan travel bubble is underway

The travel bubble between Palau and Taiwan has commenced. A flight carrying over 100 passengers arrived in Palau late last week. Among the travellers was President Surangel Whipps Jr and his delegation.

They were returning from a trip to Taipei, which included high level meetings with Taiwanese officials. Surangel is the first international leader to have visited Taiwan since the start of the pandemic.

His itinerary included a meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen.

It is hoped that the scheme, which is highly regulated to prevent any spread of COVID-19 infections, will provide a boost for the tourism industry in Palau. Prior to the pandemic and the closing of borders, tourism accounted for 50% of the country’s GDP.

If all goes well with this ‘sterile travel corridor’ it is anticipated that there will be two flights per week between Taipei and Koror.

New Caledonia government yet to be formed

In New Caledonia a new government has yet to be formed. There have been three attempts to elect a President, which is a requirement in order that the 11-member government can be formed. On each occasion, the vote has been split between two members of the pro-independence grouping.

The impasse means that the previous government will continue to act in caretaker mode. The responsibility for this year’s budget has been handed to the French High Commission.

Meanwhile, there are significant issues arising from having to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 in the territory, including the resumption of some flights further to a recent lockdown.

Congress can now vote to proceed with a third (and final) referendum on independence. Whilst this is technically possible, requiring one-third of the Congress to agree, it is hard to see it progressing until a new government is formed.

Tess Newton Cain is the project lead for the Pacific Hub at the Griffith Asia Institute

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