New coronavirus ravages South Pacific islands, indigenous people suffer

Outbreak leaves unequal exposure in Pacific island once free of New Crown pneumonia French New Caledonia in the South Pacific had escaped the New Crown pneumonia epidemic for a year and a half. But by mid-September of last year, the Delta variant began to spread in New Caledonia, which has a population of about 270,000. Of the nearly 13,300 positive cases in just a few weeks, more than 280 people died, and 56-year-old Isamatro spent 40 days in the hospital with Newcastle pneumonia. She said, “None of us expected the Newcastle pneumonia epidemic to come here.”

Epidemic affects independence referendum

Of the many South Pacific islands that have recently battled the New Crown pneumonia epidemic, New Caledonia is one of the hardest hit areas. The rampant New Coronavirus infection disproportionately affects New Caledonians, who are of Pacific Island descent, highlighting social inequalities in a dependency struggling with whether to secede from France.

A referendum on independence here failed last December, in part because Kanaks boycotted the vote. The Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population, called for the referendum to be postponed because traditional mourning ceremonies for those who died in the new crown delayed their political activities. But Paris was unmoved and continued to push for the referendum.

New Caledonia’s health care system benefits from the support of the French government. At the Mediapol hospital near the capital, Nouméa, patients in critical condition with New Coronary Pneumonia are housed in a state-of-the-art intensive care unit, better than many facilities in France. About 300 medical personnel from France and its overseas dependencies gathered in New Caledonia during a surge of cases last year.

Aborigines are more afraid of catching the disease

But a strong social security network has not bridged the divide between New Caledonian blood aborigines and predominantly white immigrants. Officials at the Cattle Hospital say 80 percent of the doctors at the Mediapol hospital are from France. And there are almost no Kanak doctors in all of New Caledonia, and none in the Mediapol hospital.

Doctors say the high incidence of diabetes, hypertension and obesity among people of South Pacific descent has exacerbated New Caledonia’s new crown crisis. Thanks to French subsidies and rich mineral resources, New Caledonia may be one of the wealthiest regions in the South Pacific, but income disparities are wide. 1/4 of European immigrants tend to be in the upper echelons of wealth.

Meanwhile, more and more Kanaks are moving from tribal villages to Nouméa, gathering in shady apartment buildings. But fresh local produce is expensive, and the high salaries of French government employees push up prices. The bakery that sells croissants made with imported French butter is next to the grocery store that sells overpriced hairy vegetables “When I was a kid, there were hardly any fat people here.” Graceland, a 52-year-old neurologist at Mediapol Hospital, said, “But our sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits have created a terrible problem, and it makes us very afraid of the new crown.”

Exhausted by mourning rituals

Europeans arrived in New Caledonia in the 19th century, allowing diseases such as cholera and smallpox to spread rapidly. A campaign to force Kanaks to paint their houses led to high cancer rates because of the asbestos in white paint. Seventy-five years after the Kanaks first came into contact with Europeans, the population was reduced by about half. But a century ago, when the Great Influenza ravaged the world, New Caledonia was one of the few paradises on earth.

In January 2021, New Caledonia was one of the first places in the world to receive a large number of New Crown vaccines. However, when the Delta mutant strain hit, less than half the population had been vaccinated. New Caledonia’s Health Minister Slammer said, “There is a closed mentality on the island, where people think they are safe. They are quickly forgetting their history.”

While the local government wanted all people entering the area to be vaccinated, Paris initially argued that French citizens were not bound by the requirement. “They said that we are all French and we can go anywhere in France. But ours is the place in France where there is no new crown. That’s too bad.” Slammer said. As a result, confirmed cases are rapidly increasing. Shortly before last year’s surge in New Crown pneumonia bowls, the New Caledonian government said it would make vaccination mandatory by the end of 2021, but the deadline has been pushed back.

Some New Caledonians have been exhausted by the long-running mourning ceremonies after the massive death toll from Delta. Multiple family members of government adviser Charles Vea died in New Crown. He said, “It’s starting to become natural to go to the cemetery and mourn over and over again. But it’s not really natural at all. It’s a tragedy.”

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