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Australia and New Zealand have stepped up to ensure their region can respond appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Alex Hawke, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific, revealed they have answered an array of calls for assistance from the health ministers of nations like Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Fiji. 

According to Payne, Australia will support the Pacific’s ability to diagnose the virus, supply additional protective supplies for healthcare workers and provide guidance on risk communication tactics. 

"We are providing personal protective equipment and medical supplies for healthcare workers in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Fiji,” Payne and Hawke announced in a press release. “We are also helping Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Palau, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia and Fiji with planning, surveillance, risk communication and case management.”

Additionally, Australia’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security is deploying expert consultants to work alongside the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the Fijian capital of Suva. While there, they will aid the Pacific’s health ministers in developing an appropriate clinical response plan should a widespread outbreak occur. 

New Zealand has also worked to support the region by joining Australia to fund the WHO’s Pacific response plan. 

Australia has pledged just over $1.1 million AUD (USD $670,000) while New Zealand has committed more than $1 million NZD (USD $633,000). New Zealand is also sending health experts to the Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue and a specific New Zealand liaison officer to work in the Incident Management Team at the WHO’s Pacific office. 

"New Zealand is working closely with our Pacific partners to prevent the virus from spreading, and to protect New Zealanders and our Pacific Island neighbours. We remain very aware that New Zealand is one of the major gateways to the Pacific,” New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tradesaid in a WHO press release. “We are in daily contact with Pacific Island governments, sharing with them our Ministry of Health information and advice, along with our internal planning and procedures.” 

As of March 24, the WHO reports one confirmed coronavirus case in both Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. Fiji, New Caledonia and French Polynesia have three, seven and 18 confirmed cases, respectively. 

A widespread outbreak of coronavirus in the Pacific would follow on from similar infectious disease outbreaks over the past few years. Inadequate health systems and poor water and sanitation saw a measles outbreak spread throughout Samoa, Tonga and Fiji in 2019 and polio cases return in Papua New Guinea in 2018.

You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.

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