French Polynesia is tightening restrictions as it faces a surge in Covid-19 cases, having opened for international travel and recently reestablished its link with Hawaii.
A two-week lockdown would be implemented and schools would be closed starting Aug. 23, as the country’s health system buckles under the pressure of a spike in cases. A curfew would also be implemented from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m., it was announced on Friday.
Health authorities announced 54 more deaths, 2,745 new cases, 349 people in the hospital and 48 in intensive care, over the past 72 hours. A majority of French Polynesia’s 39,117 cases have been on Tahiti, though cases have spread to outer islands.
The Society Islands, which include Bora Bora and Tahiti, were most at risk so it was facing stricter measures to contain the virus’ spread, High Commissioner Dominique Sorain said at a press conference. The Tuamotu Islands face a limited curfew, only on weekends.
A law was also passed on Friday, making vaccinations mandatory for all medical staff, people in vulnerable health and people in contact with the public.
The increased cases come after the country opened up for tourism in July. The 9,000 foreign tourists currently in French Polynesia would have to remain in their hotels.
Travelers from Hawaii had to be vaccinated and present a negative RT-PCR test within 72 hours before departure, or able to present a compelling reason for travel, in addition to quarantine measures. Travelers from Tahiti could skip quarantine measures if vaccinated.
A vaccination campaign was launched in January but just 94,000 people have been fully vaccinated, accounting for less than a third of the population. President Edouard Fritch urged people to get vaccinated, stating defiance, mistrust and doubt were no longer acceptable.
Top figures were caught unmasked and defying previous curfew measures at a wedding in early August. President Fritch and Papeete mayor Michel Buillard were photographed at a large wedding, prompting Polynesian backlash, France 24 reported.
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Thomas Heaton is a Li Center for Global Journalism Fellow. The position is supported by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Institute for Nonprofit News. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @thomasheaton.