After nearly two years of avoiding Covid-19, one of the most remote inhabited places in the world has recorded its first cases of the virus.
Rēkohu, or the Chatham Islands, lie just over 800km east of mainland New Zealand and are home to around 600 permanent residents.
The Canterbury District Health Board (DHB) has confirmed that two of its residents tested positive for the virus over the weekend and are now in isolation and supported.
The streets of the largest settlement, Waitangi, were quiet on Monday, with very few people around, Chatham Islands Mayor Monique Croon said. “Some people are really worried, and for others they are prepared and quite comfortable.”
“It’s certainly not the best news, but we’ve prepared for it.”
Croon could not give further details of the cases, only that person who tested positive had left the islands.
New Zealand has seen a rapid rise in cases since the Omicron variant arrived in the country in January. It reported 17,522 cases on Monday, with 696 people hospitalized.
Like other island territories and nations that escaped the pandemic, including Nauru, the Pitcairn Islands and Tokelau, the Chatham Islands benefited from an ocean border, but unlike nations that also benefited from strict border controls, the Chatham Islands are part of New Zealand, and residents and mainlanders alike are free to come and go.
Croon said the community had considered the possibility of setting up its own border protection, but the council had made it clear they wanted to follow New Zealand’s national guidelines for the pandemic response. “It’s been really effective for the island.”
The community has been vigilant in following pandemic policies from the start, including handwashing, contact tracing, lockdowns and social distancing, Croon said, although he hasn’t had a case so far. ‘now.
The islands are prepared for the possibility of widespread transmission, with iwi (tribes), council and health officials meeting weekly to plan for an outbreak, she said. “The introduction of rapid antigen tests is really essential to achieve rapid early detection, and it will be available to all members of the community. We also know who is vulnerable in the community, and if some of our vulnerable people get infected, they will likely be kicked off the island. »
Dr Helen Skinner of the health board said the DHB would distribute rapid antigen tests to all households on the islands this week and the islands health center would offer vaccinations. Only 56% of the community was boosted, compared to a national average of 73%.
“We encourage anyone who is unvaccinated or has not had their booster to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Skinner said.