The Marshall Islands was one of the last nations in the world to be unscathed by COVID-19 – but now anymore. For the first time, the remote Pacific nation has a reported explosion of cases among their small population, with infections said to be spreading like wildfire.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) reported community spread of COVID-19 for the first time on August 8, 2022, according to a press release shared by health minister Jack Niedenthal, who discovered he was the 11th case on the islands.
By August 15, the RMI had recorded a total of 3,036 cases, with 571 cases reported in the previous 24 hours. There have also been 7 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. Due to delays in reporting over the weekend, the true number of new cases is likely to be even higher, explained Niedenthal.
The huge majority of infections have been found in Majuro, the capital and largest city of the Marshall Islands where just under half of the population resides.
“We have reports of illness on some outer islands but these are unconfirmed as COVID cases, and we are trying to address this, but the focus right now is on Majuro where we are under siege by the disease,” Niedenthal wrote on August 10.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands became one of the first countries to shut its borders in response to COVID-19, banning incoming flights on March 8, 2020, days before the World Health Organization even declared a pandemic.
This hard-line strategy had long been paying off. Prior to this month, the Marshall Islands had just a couple of COVID-19 cases, but these were imported from elsewhere into the country and there was no evidence of community transmission. For now, there are no details on how this ongoing outbreak on the islands emerged.
The current population of the Marshall Islands is approximately 62,000. Fortunately, over 70 percent of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19. Nevertheless, the sheer number of cases in such a short time is putting the nation’s healthcare system under heavy strain.
Last week, hospitals in Majuro had 83 healthcare workers infected with COVID-19. Just like many other countries, this situation forced the country to recall hospital workers infected with COVID-19, provided they weren’t too sick to work.
“What we are seeing here in Majuro is not unlike all of the other countries that went before us with this outbreak. Long lines, chaos, people arguing with each other, panic, unhappiness, disorganization, huge amounts of stress that cause even family and friends to argue with each other, and then, of course, people getting sick,” Niedenthal added.
“These are all the evils associated with this disease and once it gets into a country no one is immune from them, all countries of the world have experienced all of this.”