The Kiribati island nation was one of the world's last covid-free places. Now it's under lockdown.

Photo taken in Tarawa, Kiribati (Sammy Toar Heintje Mantow / EyeEm via Getty Images)
·2 min read

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati, which had almost entirely kept the coronavirus out, went into lockdown on Saturday for the first time in the pandemic. The government imposed a 24-hour curfew after passengers on the first international flight in months tested positive for the virus.

Before this month, the island, one of the world's most remote, had recorded just two infections - in two people returning on a ship in May last year, who quarantined on the vessel.

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The new restrictions include a ban on social gatherings and a requirement for residents to stay at home except in the case of emergencies. Most government offices and other institutions will close, except for hospitals, the police and essential services.

Thirty-six people on a flight from Fiji tested positive on landing about a week ago on the first plane to arrive since the nation reopened its borders this month. All 54 passengers were quarantined at a facility, but at least four cases were since reported in the community, including a security guard at the quarantine center.

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American Samoa, which detected its first infection only in September, also announced a full lockdown for 48 hours starting Saturday after an uptick of 15 coronavirus cases that arrived on a flight from Australia.

In Kiribati, the president's office said there was "now an assumption that covid-19″ was spreading in the community. "The only way that we could fight this virus is through complete vaccination," it said. "It is critical that all work together to do our part in combating this pandemic."

About 90% of the population has received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 53% has had two shots, according to Radio Kiribati, citing official data. The national radio station said the Fiji flight was chartered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

With a population of nearly 120,000, Kiribati lies between Australia and Hawaii, about a four-hour flight from Fiji. The nearest continent, North America, is thousands of miles away. Travelers to Kiribati must show proof of vaccination and negative test results before starting their journey to the archipelago and then quarantine for two weeks on arrival.

Many remote islands have maintained "zero covid" policies and imposed lengthy travel bans during the pandemic. The small size of Pacific island nations has in some ways helped ward off the virus, with many able to shut their borders and some vaccinating their populations quickly, but others lack the public health infrastructure to deal with a large outbreak.

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