Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 15 August 2022

Micronesia, the remote Pacific islands

Source: By The Indian Express

The Federated States of Micronesia, a small island country in the Pacific that is home to around 110,000 people, is one of the latest places on Earth to experience an outbreak of Covid-19, after two and a half years of successfully protecting itself from the virus.

Government officials announced in July 2022 that they had detected several new cases in two of the country’s four states. Thirty-five people tested positive for the virus in Kosrae, and another seven cases were found in the state of Pohnpei, the Associated Press reported. Micronesia had earlier planned to lift its quarantine restrictions and open its borders on 1 August 2022.

Micronesia’s geography

Located in the Western Pacific, in the Micronesia sub-region of Oceania, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) consists of four island statesYapChuukKosrae and Pohnpei (where the capital Palikir is located), all in the Caroline Islands. Also known as the Carolines, it is a scattered archipelago of small islands that are divided between Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

FSM is composed of 607 islands and islets with a total land area of 702 square km. While this area is rather small, the islands stretch across an estimated 2,900 sq km of sea, giving the nation the 14th largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world. EEZs grant countries special rights over marine resources up to 370 km from their coasts.

The Federated States of Micronesia shares its sea borders with other small island nations and territories in the Micronesia region like Guam, the Republic of Marshall IslandsPalauKiribati, and the Mariana Islands. Its larger neighbouring states — separated by large swathes of the Pacific Ocean — include the Philippines in the westHawaii in the east, Papua New Guinea and Australia to the south, Japan to the north.

Micronesia in the pandemic

FSM had reported its first case in January 2021, when a crew member isolated on a ship near Pohnpei tested positive. But the country was thereafter successful in protecting itself from the pandemic until very recently — which was in part due to its geographical isolation and the absence of land borders with other countries.

In August 2021, the country introduced a rule requiring all eligible citizens to get vaccinated against Covid. Only vaccinated citizens could receive federal funds such as pandemic stimulus payments and security benefits.

FSM also imposed strict border controls, suspended international travel, and issued quarantine orders for citizens. These measures were deemed essential given the limited medical infrastructure of the islands, and issues of logistics given the topography.

While health services in hospitals, dispensaries and community health centres are highly subsidised by the government, as of 2017 there were only six private health clinics and one private hospital in the country. The WHO noted that it is difficult for residents of the outer islands to access hospitals.

Other small, isolated countries in the Pacific, such as KiribatiTonga and Samoa, too have reported coronavirus outbreaks at various times during the global pandemic. An AFP report from 19 July 2022 said the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu are the last two countries in the region to remain Covid-free still.