With the first community outbreak of the coronavirus in the Solomon Islands spreading fast through a largely unvaccinated population, the Red Cross warns the island nation’s fragile health care system is at risk of being overwhelmed.
The capital Honiara has only one small hospital and authorities have already turned a sports building into a field hospital and a football stadium into a vaccination centre, said Clement Manuri, secretary general of the Solomon Islands Red Cross Society.
“What’s currently happening is they are trying to keep only people who are really sick with COVID-19, with difficulty breathing, in those facilities,” Manuri told The Associated Press in an interview from Honiara.
“Otherwise the advice is for people who have tested positive to self-isolate in their homes.”
The nation of some 690,000 is spread across hundreds of islands, and many are served by only small health care clinics or have no nearby facilities at all, Manuri said.
“I think the fear now is if it goes to the villages it will be a very serious problem,” he said.
Solomon Islands authorities said last week that one in every two people in the capital now have COVID-19 symptoms, but with the lack of testing it is hard to say exactly how many are currently ill with the virus, because the regular flu is also going around right now, Manuri said.
Officially, there have been 68 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 and 5043 cases, according to Our World in Data.
In the Solomons, authorities have been struggling with their vaccine rollout, particularly in hard-to-reach outlying islands. In addition, Manuri said, there is a high level of vaccine hesitancy, largely from false information being spread.
With the current outbreak, however, people are now rushing to be vaccinated, at times overwhelming the vaccination stations.
“People are lining up all day,” he said.
The surge in interest seems partially in response to the outbreak, but also because of new government regulations closing many facilities to non-vaccinated people, Manuri said.
Currently only 11 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, but another 17 per cent have now had their first shot, according to Our World in Data.