Micronesia’s first COVID-19 outbreak balloons, causing alarm

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The first outbreak of COVID-19 in Micronesia grew in a week to more than 1,000 cases on Tuesday, causing alarm in the Pacific island nation.

Last week, Micronesia likely became the world’s final nation with a population of over 100,000 experiencing an outbreak of the disease, after avoiding it for 2½ years thanks to its geographic isolation and border controls.

Health officials said cases are rapidly increasing. It reported 140 new cases on Monday, bringing the total to 1,261, a figure that includes some cases caught at the border before the outbreak.

Eight people were hospitalized and an older man died, officials said.

Many senior lawmakers and senior officials have contracted the disease, including Vice President Yosiwo George, who was hospitalized, officials said. They said the vice president’s condition was improving.

Camille Movick, whose family owns the Fusion restaurant in Pohnpei state, told the Associated Press that many people are posting on Facebook asking, for example, that other people stay away from their homes.

“Initially, there was a little bit of panic and concern for most people,” she said.

She said her restaurant remained open, although business was sluggish because many people were afraid to dine there. She said some other restaurants had closed their dining rooms and were only offering take-away services.

Movick said officials had issued a directive that all people must wear masks in public — even outdoors — and that they face fines of $1,000 for non-compliance.

She said one positive outcome was that the outbreak prompted many previously unvaccinated people to get their shots.

She said many people suspected the virus might be circulating before the first community case was confirmed last week because health officials were not routinely testing patients for the disease.

Last year, Micronesia became one of the few countries to impose a broad mandate requiring all eligible citizens to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The government threatened to withhold federal funds from any individuals or businessmen who did not follow the rules. Health officials said this week that 75% of people age 5 and older have been fully vaccinated.

Movick said many parts of society continue to function as before, including many people who worked in their offices.

“We hope things get back to normal soon,” Movick said. “Just like in other countries, over time they overcame and lifted the restrictions.”

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