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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/18/20

Island Fever - Coronavirus's Unique Threat to Small Island Populations

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A pandemic on a remote island could result in wiping out most of its inhabitants
A pandemic on a remote island could result in wiping out most of its inhabitants
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Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a particular threat to small island states and populations where adequate medical services, especially those necessary to deal with a pandemic, are inadequate. Aitutaki, a remote atoll of the Pacific island nation of the Cook Islands, showed more counter-infection professionalism than did the United States executive administration when it barred entry into its port of Arutanga Harbor of the cruise ship "MSC Magnifica" because it was carrying Italian passengers and had originated in Italy. Aitutaki, like other small atolls, islands, and archipelagos that are reachable only by sea or by infrequent air services, cannot afford introducing a pandemic to their residents. In addition, medical services on such islands are usually small to virtually non-existent. A pandemic on a remote island could result in wiping out most of its inhabitants and Aitutaki's administration realized that when it banned the cruise ship. It was a wise precaution by Aitutaki since four of the cruise ship's passengers were later admitted to the hospital in the main Cook Islands capital of Rarotonga, with one suffering from what was officially described as "bacterial pneumonia" unrelated to the coronavirus.

Some Pacific islands are prohibiting human-to-human contact during aircraft refueling. In the case of the sparsely populated northern Cook Islands coral atolls of Penhryn, Pukapuka, Manihiki, Rakahanga, and Nassau, island authorities turned away the supply ship "Kwai," which was carrying critical but perishable supplies. The islands were in fear they would be overwhelmed by the virus, which has already appeared in French Polynesia. As with a number of Caribbean islands, Pacific islands are taking no chances by allowing cruise ships to make port calls. As a result, cruise ships have been banned from, in addition to the Cook Islands, New Caledonia, Tonga, and Samoa.

At the time Aitutaki refused docking privileges to the cruise ship, hundreds of cruise ship passengers exposed to the coronavirus were being flown into or transported quarantine centers in the United States. Had the Trump administration ordered all the ships to remain in port and board no passengers inside or outside U.S. territory, the number of virus vectors might have been reduced. However, Trump and other Republican office holders receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions from deep-pocketed owners of cruise ship firms and related industries. Profit margins over public health rules the day inside the Trump White House.

Before being concerned about the health of American citizens, among Trump's first priorities was a government financial bailout of the cruise, airline, and hotel industries. One of Trump's major campaign donors is Israeli-American dual national Micky Arison, the chairman of Carnival Corporation, which owns both Carnival and Princess cruise lines. The Trump National Doral golf club is located very close to Carnival's corporate headquarters in Miami. Carnival was also a corporate sponsor of Trump's two cheesy reality TV shows, "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice." In addition, one of Trump's impeachment defense attorneys who appeared before the U.S. Senate, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, was registered as a lobbyist for Carnival North America prior to signing on as Trump's attorney. Bandi's sister-in-law, Tandy Bondi, has also served as registered lobbyist for Carnival North America.

It was aboard Princess cruise ships that the coronavirus spread among crew and passengers in Yokohama and off the coast of California like a wildfire. The American taxpayer was left holding the tab for quarantining ship passengers, transporting them to quarantine sites across the United States, and providing room, board, and medical services.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said, "Cruise companies should immediately stop launching new voyages . . . if they won't do it voluntarily, we should look at mandatory measures."

Island nations that depend on tourism are being hit by a double whammy with the coronavirus. While they are losing precious tourism money that bolsters their economies, they are, at the same time, spending diminished treasury funds on preparation for the virus infecting their populations. Mark Brantley, the premier of Nevis, a Caribbean island that forms a federation with neighboring St. Kitts, wrote on Twitter that the coronavirus "is taking a terrible toll on the health and economic well-being of our Caribbean region. Even little Nevis that has no cases yet has suffered hotel cancellations." St. Kitts and Nevis realize that when the virus strikes them, they will be largely on their own as larger and more powerful nations deal with their own emergency situations. Island nations, including those in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and Pacific are doing their best to cope with the virus. They are enhancing pre-emptive health screening at immigration controls, barring entry to nationals of countries impacted by the coronavirus, requiring St. Kitts and Nevis nationals visiting coronavirus-infected countries within the virus's 14-day incubation period to be medically screened upon return, and preparing their national health systems to detect, contain, and manage the pandemic when the virus arrives on their shores. The Caribbean islands are keeping abreast of the coronavirus situation by maintaining close links with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan American Health Organization, and the World Health Organization. On March 5, CARPHA upgraded the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the Caribbean Region to "Very High." The arrival of the first coronavirus cases in Jamaica, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, St. Maarten, and Trinidad and Tobago has every Caribbean island on full public health alert.

Island states in the Indian Ocean attempted to forestall virus infections. However, in the case of the French territory of Reunion, the first four cases were imported from mainland France, including one patient who contracted the virus while on a cruise ship in the Bahamas. Up to 34 other Reunion residents participated in the same Bahamas cruise and were being sought out by public health authorities in Saint-Denis, the Reunion capital.

In Maldives, the entire island resort of Kuredu Island in the Lhaviyani Atoll was locked down after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. All flights in and out of the island were halted. Four other resort islands, Vilamendhoo, Batalaa, Thinadhoo, and Kuramathi, were also placed under quarantine with transfers to and from the islands banned. The Maldives took the extraordinary step of creating a quarantine resort for coronavirus patients on the island of Villivaru in the Kaafu Atoll. Two French tourists showed coronavirus symptoms prior to the creation of the specially-designated resort for coronavirus patients.

Even islands with relatively advanced health care systems can take for granted that they will not be overwhelmed by overwhelming numbers of patients requiring intensive care and respiration. Security levels not seen since World War II are in effect for the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Faroe Islands, and Mauritius. The Seychelles, a popular tourist destination in the Indian Ocean, has postponed all official conferences scheduled until May of this year. As far as the enterprising tourist who has thought about the far-flung British Overseas Territories of St. Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, or the Falkland Islands, entry requirements are now so stringent in order to protect the local populations, they are effectively closed to tourists until further notice.

The coronavirus is the last type of "island fever" isolated patches of land scattered about the seven seas and having small populations need at the current time.

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