After 2 years, Omicron outbreak in Marshall Islands

After 2 years, Omicron outbreak in Marshall Islands

After dodging the COVID epidemic for two years, a health crisis has been declared in the Marshall Islands as local authorities confirm more than 10 per cent of residents in the capital of Majuro have become infected within a week.

Since a handful of positive community cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed on August 8, the numbers have gone up to 2,800 in the city of 22,500.

Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal said on Monday that we're gearing up for the hardest part of the outbreak in Majuro.

The Marshall Islands was one of the last countries to stay COVID-free thanks to strict quarantine rules.

The good thing about having all these other countries go before us is that we really understand how this variant of the virus spreads like wildfires, according to Niedenthal.

On Friday, the Marshalls President David Kabua signed a state of health disaster to give the government access to emergency funding.

There have been 3,000 positive cases in a population of around 42,000 across the islands and atolls that comprise the Marshalls so far.

Niedenthal warned that the outbreak was continuing to gain strength in Majuro, as the number of cases doubled from Saturday to Sunday.

Three deaths have been reported so far.

People who are seeking treatment for symptoms and testing have been swamped by the care sites set up in Majuro.

The local health officials struggled to cope with demand as thousands of islanders clamoured for help even as 200 doctors and nurses across the country tested positive for COVID.

The outbreak has spread from the capital to Ebeye, the densely populated community next door to the US military's Reagan Test Site in Kwajalein Atoll.

The tiny island, home to around 1,000 people, would likely see a surge in cases, Niedenthal warned on Monday.

He said they are about a week behind Majuro.

Domestic flights by national carrier Air Marshall Islands and travel by government ships to remote islands have been suspended since Tuesday in an effort to contain the spread.

A special flight intended to take a health team to some remote islands was cancelled Sunday because all Air Marshall pilots had tested positive.

The outbreak has been suspected of being caused by a relaxing of the quarantine rules in recent weeks, coupled with unprecedented numbers of people coming in through the managed quarantine process.

The government previously announced plans to open its borders and drop its quarantine on arrival requirements from October 1.

The US-based Centers for Disease Control and other agencies are going to send support teams this week.

Niedenthal described the extra help as boots-on-the- ground medical support professionals who will be sent to support local authorities after being tested on arrival.

The days of quarantine upon arrival are over.