As a distant nation within the Pacific, the Marshall Islands had been virtually utterly spared from Covid-19, registering only a handful of instances all through the pandemic, with no neighborhood transmission detected.
But in simply over every week, greater than 4,000 folks have examined optimistic in a inhabitants of about 60,000, together with the nation’s secretary of well being and human providers, Jack Niedenthal. He has been offering updates on Facebook and mentioned 75 p.c of these examined in Majuro, the capital, had Covid, “an incredibly high positivity rate.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Niedenthal mentioned there was some panic and concern, on condition that the islands, about midway between Hawaii and the Philippines, had not recorded a single Covid case final yr.
“So people were thinking, ‘Hey, these guys really know what they’re doing,’” he mentioned. “The problem is people started wanting to travel, they missed their loved ones, some leaders traveled.”
As life started to return to regular, retaining the virus out was unattainable, he mentioned. Mr. Niedenthal anticipated the case depend to proceed rising, given the dense inhabitants. “The next three to four days are going to be pretty rough,” he mentioned.
Hundreds of well being care employees have been among the many contaminated. At the hospital in Majuro, immunizations had been halted as a result of virtually the complete workforce was out, many of the medical report keepers had been out, and the housecleaning workers was diminished to at least one particular person, he mentioned.
On Aug. 10, Mr. Niedenthal referred to as well being care employees again to work even when they examined optimistic, saying they’d be screened and wouldn’t work together with sufferers. He mentioned it was a drastic measure that “has been taken throughout the world and the Pacific as Covid numbers rise quickly and we are left with no other choice.”
Hospitalizations and deaths are likely to lag behind case numbers, however as of this week there had been few extreme instances, together with six deaths.
The inhabitants is very vaccinated: 72 p.c are totally vaccinated in Majuro, and 61 p.c have boosters, in accordance with authorities information. The Marshall Islands closed its borders in early March 2020, taking extra drastic measures than its neighbors on the time. It was one of many final locations on the planet to get its first instances, when two travelers were quarantined in October 2020.
Mr. Niedenthal mentioned the primary identified instances of the present outbreak had been amongst a bunch of youngsters who had no journey historical past or identified contact with anybody who had been in quarantine. “So we knew we were in trouble, because they came from a crowded community,” he mentioned.
He mentioned that over the previous few days, folks have been nervous, however that there was a robust sense of neighborhood on the islands. “It’s not like panic in the U.S. where everybody is buying toilet paper,” he mentioned.
And not like early within the pandemic, the islands now have entry to Covid therapies, like Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment proven to forestall severe Covid instances, despatched by the U.S. authorities. Representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived on the island in latest days to help with the response.
Other governments have pitched in: Taiwan donated hundreds of masks, protecting robes and different hygiene merchandise, whereas American Samoa despatched shipments of Paxlovid. The Australian authorities has supplied protecting tools, testing kits, masks and face shields.
Angeline Heine Reimers, a authorities employee in Majuro, mentioned catching the virus had grow to be virtually “unavoidable.” Many folks dwell in multifamily properties, she mentioned, including that 15 of the 16 individuals who dwell in her home had contracted the virus.
“The good thing is that all of us had been vaccinated,” mentioned Ms. Heine Reimers, 46, including that every of their instances had been gentle. Many Marshallese dwell with comorbidities that place them at greater danger if they’re sickened, and the Marshall Islands has one of many highest charges of diabetes on the planet, according to data compiled by the World Bank. “Everybody is just really scared,” Ms. Heine Reimers mentioned.
Marie Davis Milne, the mayor of Ebon Atoll, about 240 miles southwest of Majuro, mentioned that the authorities had been attempting to forestall the unfold of the virus by stopping most planes and ships that journey between neighboring islands.
She mentioned that previously few days, she had volunteered at testing websites on Majuro, the place some folks had waited underneath the recent solar for hours. “Even if it rains they don’t move,” Ms. Davis Milne mentioned. “They don’t want to lose their place in line.”
Jenny Gross and Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed reporting.