COVID-19: After 2.5 years, Micronesia in the Pacific records its first outbreak

Barely a fortnight before Micronesia had planned to lift its quarantine and travel restrictions on August 1, 42 people have tested positive for COVID-19

By Taran Deol
Published: Thursday 21 July 2022
A map by iStock showing the location of Micronesia

A small island country in the Pacific Ocean with a population of just over 0.1 million is the latest to lose its COVID-free tag after an over two year-long run.

The Federated States of Micronesia had planned to lift its quarantine and travel restrictions August 1, 2022. However, 35 people from Kosrae and another seven in Pohnpei — two of its four islands — tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus July 19.

The country has a high vaccination coverage rate. This is because it became one of the few to introduce a mandate requiring compulsory vaccination for all those eligible last August.

“It threatened to withhold federal funds from any individuals or business owners who didn’t follow the rules and as a result, has had high vaccination rates,” the Associated Press (AP) reported. Federal funds include pandemic stimulus payments and security benefits.

The 35 people who have fallen ill are part of the first COVID-19 outbreak in Micronesia. However, it had recorded its first case in January 2021, when a crew member isolated on a ship near Pohnpei had tested positive.

The virus hadn’t spread any further due to the country’s strict isolation guidelines. Since then, no other cases had been reported till now.

More than two years into the pandemic, countries by now have a distinct immunity profile. Micronesia is among the few where immunity derived from natural infection is practically negligible.

Vaccines provide the only barrier of protection. How COVID-19 manifests itself in such a naive population remains to be seen.

The spread of the virus to Micronesia is a testament to how difficult it is now to keep COVID-19 at bay. Its invasion of Micronesia was inevitable. BA.5’s inherent transmissibility and immunity-evading characteristics make it the fittest COVID-19 variant till now.

Several other small nations elsewhere in the Pacific including Kiribati, Tonga, Samoa and Nauru are among those whose defences against the pandemic have finally been penetrated this year.

The Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands have managed to avoid any community outbreaks till now.

Turkmenistan is the only country with a population greater than 100,000 where COVID-19 cases haven’t been reported. However, many believe this is not a function of a robust healthcare and detection system but that of an authoritarian government in ignorance.

North Korea is another country which has remained largely in the dark about its encounter with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

It is yet to officially confirm any COVID-19 case due to lack of testing but stated that 99.98 per cent of its 4.77 million ‘fever’ patients have fully recovered, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

BA.5 is the most immune-evasive variant of COVID-19 till now. Experts believe it is becoming increasingly difficult to make complete sense of the surges being fuelled by it globally.

“We see very different biases in different countries coming into reported cases, hospital admissions, and reported deaths,” Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation director and lead modeller Christopher JL Murray noted in his latest COVID-19 projections from July 20. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.