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New Caledonia begins health state of emergency, lockdown after new Covid cases

rfi.fr– New Caledonia has announced a new health state of emergency, just a day after a new coronavirus lockdown began. Three new cases were confirmed in the South Pacific French territory that had been declared “Covid free,” officials said.

The health state of emergency is valid until the 15 November, following a decision made by the parliament on Tuesday evening, and will be validated by the Senate on Thursday, authorities said.

This is in line with measures put in place for all overseas territories dealing with an increase in Covid-19 cases putting local hospitals under strain.

“Several cases of Covid-19 have been detected among people who have not travelled outside the territory in the last few weeks, and have no link between them,” cabinet ministers wrote in their summary concerning New Caledonia.

Local authorities ordered strict travel restrictions at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to avoid an outbreak that would overwhelm hospitals on the islands.

Previously just 202 positive Covid-19 cases had been recorded among the population of around 290,000, and no deaths.

The latest local government figures show that 66 cases have been reported since the 6 September 2021 and 7 patients admitted to intensive care.

Many are concerned the situation will get worse, as it has done in French Polynesia, an archipelago with a similar number of inhabitants.

Vaccine hesitancy

But vaccine hesitancy among the indigenous Kanak population means many people remain vulnerable.

Just 30 percent of residents are currently vaccinated, compared with 73 percent having at least one dose for France overall.

The government announced last week that vaccination would now be mandatory for all adults.

“The virus is spreading and it’s likely that several dozens of Caledonians are now infected,” said the territory’s president, Louis Mapou.

Schools and universities will be shut for the next 15 days, and face masks will be required outside.

Quarantine

People can go out only for work or for essential activities such as medical visits, or for a maximum one hour of sport within one kilometre of their homes.

Flights to and from the territory, as well as intra-island flights, are suspended indefinitely except for medical personnel.

Already anyone arriving to New Caledonia has to quarantine for 15 days at government-requisitioned lodgings — a rule that prevented President Emmanuel Macron from visiting when he travelled to nearby French Polynesia in July.

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