Posted by : Posted on : 28-Apr-2020

Solomon Islands:  Taking a broad look at some of the consequences and reactions to tackling the threat imposed by Covid-19

 News from the Solomon Islands continues to be dominated by the precautionary measures adopted by the Solomon Islands government to keep the country safe from Covid-19.

Unlike in many other countries in the world, including some in the Solomon Island’s neighbourhood, coronavirus has found a foothold and many people have died from the virus in countries beyond the Pacific

While the Solomons is so far free from the killer virus there are some immediate and longer term consequences arising from the Covid-19 threat that are surfacing at home and beginning to be highlighted.

Equally, there have been some largely positive reactions to the Covid-19 threat.

In this piece today I would like to highlight what I perceive to have been expressions of concern over the consequences of contending with the threat of coronavirus and also mention some of the reactions.

In the Solomon Times on Line today, Jeremy Gwao writes of the consequences of taking care of family members who suffer from physical disabilities in times of emergency.

Jeremy’s article is not only thought provoking but I believe should get the government’s attention.

This is what Jeremy’s article said, quote.

“While many are taken care of by family members, in times of crises or emergency they will need assistance with everyday tasks, including making food and getting dressed.

“People with Disability Solomon Islands (PWDSI) are calling on government to also recognize the needs of people with disability at this time of emergency.

“PWDSI raised this concern saying there are a lot of people with disability and those who are mentally ill roaming the streets of Honiara now.

“PWDSI said these people should be taken into special care. And this is not an unfounded fear. While many are taken care of by family members, in times of crises or emergency they will need assistance with everyday tasks, including making food and getting dressed.

“Office Manager for PWDSI Davis Luabolana Ladofo’oa said government should consider these people as high risk and should ensure their safety during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“The approach we need to look at now is how we can reach this people by going down to their level so that they can understand the message.

“Unlike those with disabilities, the mentally ill must be approached with caution and needs special care during this State of Emergency," he said.

“Vice President for Blind and Visually Impairment Solomon Islands, Desmond Suiga says government should work on the mental facilities as well so the mentally ill people can have the care they need.

“We cannot continue to ignore them, especially as we fight against COVID-19,” Suiga said.

“The 2009 Solomon Islands National Population and Housing Census reports that 14% of the total population or 72,222 people – live with disability.

“This census figure is near the global prevalence rate of 15%, which would suggest that a total of 77,381 Solomon Islanders live with disability. Such chronic health conditions could make the symptoms of COVID-19 more severe or deadly.

“Even in normal times, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses confront biases in medical care or often struggle to get access to government benefits. But amid a global pandemic, such challenges are heightened—and so far, there are no specific measures or government assistance targeting those with disability.

“PWDSI wishes that government authorities to also consider this group of people as the country continues in its fight against the coronavirus.”

In a separate report related to the consequences of coronavirus on food imports, the Solomon Islands Port Authority released a statement today, from which I quote.

“Solomon Islands, and other developing countries, need to be better prepared, the disruptions caused by the rapid spread of COVID-19 are threatening to cut off supply chains and increase food insecurity.

“The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has warned that “a protracted pandemic crisis could quickly put a strain on the food supply chains, a complex web of interactions involving farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers and more.”

“The FAO says that for the moment the issue is not food scarcity — at least, not yet. Rather, it’s the world’s drastic measures in response to the virus.

“Such measures include border closures, movement restrictions, and disruptions in the shipping and aviation industries. FAO says that this will make it “harder to continue food production and transport goods internationally — placing countries with few alternative food sources at high risk.”

“The most at risk are those without solid economic bases, like Kiribati or Micronesia or Tuvalu,” said David Dawe, FAO senior economist.

“He says countries in the Pacific Islands may not be able to absorb an import drain — “these Pacific Islands are so small that they don’t grow much of their own food,” said Dawe.

“They are “remote anyway to start with and rely heavily on imports.”

“The loss of tourism revenue, the lack of domestic food production, and the lack of a financial or food safety net means these countries are “really getting hit from both sides,” said Dawe.”

In terms of the loss of tourism revenue, a report released by Radio New Zealand today, Tuesday, said, quote.

“The decimation of the Pacific's tourism industry by Covid-19 could plunge thousands of people into poverty, according to a new assessment by the International Labour Organisation.

“Thousands of jobs in countries like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are dependent on visitor numbers, which have fallen to zero.

“Thousands of jobs have already been lost, with resorts and hotels closing in Fiji, the Cook Islands and Samoa, countries where tourism makes up more than half the economy.

“And the ILO said with the pain brought by the pandemic expected to be long-lasting; workers with previously stable incomes are sliding into poverty.

“Many of these people are also informal workers, with few protections if their jobs fall through.

“The ILO said few Pacific countries have the money to fully cope with the coronavirus response, and solidarity from the likes of Australia, New Zealand and the World Bank will be vital.”

In terms of the general term “reaction” to dealing with the Covid19 threat there has been, a raft of measures brought in by the Solomon Islands government to safeguard the community from the virus, including strict enforcement conditions on movements and health precautions as prescribed in the terms of the recently imposed Declaration of Public Emergency.

In addition all have witnessed and much appreciated the help from donor partners, including Australia, New Zealand, the USA, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the WHO in bringing in medical equipment and supplies to aid the MHMS and ready the facilities at the National Referral Hospital (NRH) in the event that coronavirus should eventuate.

In a major response, as I see it, the SIG yesterday announced announced a domestic development bond worth over $US14.5 million.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the terms of the bond were up for negotiation and so far five buyers had shown an interest although only three would be chosen.

Mr Sogavare said the bonds were being issued to try and mobilise resources to fund the government's Covid-19 economic stimulus package and the bulk of the bonds would go towards major infrastructure projects with some of it to be used as equity injections into the country's major public and public/private companies namely; Soltuna, Solomon Airlines and Kolombangara Forest Products Ltd.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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