The recent detection of COVID-19 on Ontong Java and on Shortland is a wakeup call, in that the threat is real and complacency will be our undoing in the fight against COVID-19.
While the final results for the cases on Ontong Java are still pending, there is now renewed calls for additional resources for border communities to stop the entry of COVID-19. Many are taking on social media calling on the government to do more, our borders are exposed, and more needs to be done.
A lot has been achieved in terms of health and safety protocols for incoming passengers by air and cargo/logging vessels. Our testing capabilities are now one of the best in the region. The quarantine period one has to go through, based on designated risk categories, show that the oversight committee is adjusting its approach based on best practice and advice.
To date all of the registered COVID-19 cases are detected and eliminated while in quarantine – it is a feat that deserves high praise from the public.
The same cannot be said for our efforts at the border. Many, on both sides, continue to pass through the border with little respect or adherence to border closure orders imposed by both governments.
Government will need to organize border communities, equip and train them to monitor movements of small boats and report them to authorities. There are already existing networks that can be used – women, youth and church groups are well organized. NGOs in the country have a vast rural based network, which can be used to push monitoring at the border.
Authorities on both sides of the border admit that resources are stretched, and manning such a massive strecth of open water is always going to be a challenge. Fact remains our border communities are exposed, and will remain the biggest threat for the entry of COVID-19.
The onus should now be on border communities, to protect themselves and the country. Positive cases have already been recorded, so this may provide the incentive or urgency to do more - with support from government where possible.