COVID-19 pandemic in Easter Island

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COVID-19 pandemic in Easter Island
Disease COVID-19
Virus strain SARS-CoV-2
Location Rapa Nui, Chile
Index case Hanga Roa
Arrival date24 March 2020
(1 year, 9 months, 1 week and 5 days)
Confirmed cases9
Suspected cases0
Recovered5
Deaths
0
Suspected cases have not been confirmed by laboratory tests as being due to this strain, although some other strains may have been ruled out.

The COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have reached the Chilean island and special territory of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in March 2020.

Contents

Background

On 12 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a novel coronavirus was the cause of a respiratory illness in a cluster of people in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, which was reported to the WHO on 31 December 2019. [1] [2]

The case fatality ratio for COVID-19 has been much lower than SARS of 2003, [3] [4] but the transmission has been significantly greater, with a significant total death toll. [5] [3]

Timeline

On 19 March, the local government of Easter Island ordered a lockdown of the island and requested LATAM Airlines to evacuate all tourists on the island. [6]

On 24 March, the first case in Easter Island was confirmed, [7] followed by a second one in the following days. By the start of April, 5 confirmed cases had been reported. A sixth case was reported in mid April; [8] however, the Ministry of Health confirmed a few days later that the case was a false positive. All cases had recovered after some weeks.

On 24 April, confusion arose at Santiago International Airport regarding positive results for COVID-19 on tests conducted on natives waiting to return to Easter Island. While the airport authority declared that they had not been involved, and Chilean health minister Jaime Mañalich described the situation as a "misunderstanding" because the people had been symptom-free and no tests had been scheduled by the Chilean health ministry, it was later clarified that the municipality of Rapa Nui had been behind the testing. According to Pedro Edmunds Paoa, the test kits had been purchased from South Korea by the local authorities of Easter Island, and the testing procedure was part of a safety protocol. A group of 20 persons of people who had tested positive at the airport or had close contact with them decided to stay in Santiago for a voluntary quarantine of 14 days, amidst fears that their immediate return to the island would result in discrimination, while the remainder of the 527 passengers had departed as planned. [9]

On 1 July, after 100 days of no contracted COVID-19 cases, schools were reopened on the island. Safety measures include the wearing of face masks and students' temperatures being taken upon entering the school. [10]

In August, elections took place for the Ma'u Henua indigenous community, which administers the Rapa Nui National Park. Strict protocols were in place, but photos showed that social distancing measures were not followed, prompting an investigation by authorities. [11]

On 2 September, a plane landed with 262 passengers from mainland Chile. PCR tests were taken taken by health personnel from Hanga Roa Hospital, which confirmed 4 new cases to have reached the island, all of which were asymptomatic. The government said that the addresses of the infected were under 24/7 surveillance by military personnel, to prevent a breaking of the mandatory quarantine. [12]

In early October, a group of 25 natives of Rapa Nui was finally able to return to their island after being stuck on Tahiti for six months. However, at the time it was unclear whether a young mother who had just given birth would be able to board the flight. A French military plane will carry the group, after a request by Chilean authorities and following months of pleading by the stranded. The returnees will be placed in a 14-day quarantine, and the plane is expected to carry back a second group composed of 15 Tahitians who had been stranded on Easter Island. [13]

At the start of November, the municipality announced that the Tapati Festival 2021 would be held without outside visitors for the first time. The 52nd installment of the annual culture festival will also be cut short and last one a single week instead of the usual two, after plans to scrap it completely were vetoed by the community. It is scheduled to begin on 29 January 2021. [14]

While the government of Chile announced plans to open the country to tourists again by 23 November 2020, the municipal government said that Easter Island would remain closed to all people except residents. [15]

In October 2021 a referendum was held on reopening the island to tourists from January 2021. [16] The proposal was rejected by 66% of voters. [17]

Impact

Tourism

Fears that the island's health system, which consists of just a single hospital [18] with only 3 ventilators could be quickly overwhelmed resulted in the fast closure of the island, leading to around a 1000 tourists becoming stranded on the island. The local government and some hotels provided free stay and food for those who had run out of money, and eventually the visitors were evacuated to mainland Chile via chartered flights. But now many on the island – whose economy depends heavily on tourism – feared that they won't see the return of sufficient numbers of tourists anytime soon. [19]

Mitigation measures

To combat the crisis, native islanders have turned to the ancestral Polynesian tradition of Tapu (from which the English word taboo is derived), which resulted in a cultural acceptance of the lockdown and the self-isolation of affected families. In addition, many native people whose regular work (e.g. in tourism) was interrupted started cultivating their land to grow food. [20] The Tapu tradition is based around "sustainability and respect", potentially helping mitigate the expected decline in tourism revenue, while also safeguarding the elderly from the disease, who are especially valued in local tradition yet also especially vulnerable to COVID-19. [21] This was achieved by using Tapu to enforce a quarantine and restrict social contact. Later, the government brought back another ancient principle, Umanga, which encourages "reciprocal labour between neighbours". [22] While some people have been opposed to the changes, others see the extraordinary situation on the island - which has depended on food imports from mainland Chile and the income provided by around 100,000 tourists per year - as an incentive to "turbocharge" plans to make the island self-sustainable and waste-free by 2030. The modern implementation of Umanga was done via an employment scheme called Pro Empleo Rapa Nui, where 700 islanders were given work. The outcomes by the end of October 2020 included enhanced recycling initiatives and news in the local Rapa Nui language, among others. The program was expected to run until December 2020, and to cost the government an estimated 2.5bn pesos (about $3.1m) in total. [22]

The provincial government has also outlined a plan to counteract economic losses and supply shortages. These include financial aid, public construction works and plans to strengthen local agriculture by distributing seeds. It was also ensured that outside supply – on which the remote island depends – would be able to once again reach Rapa Nui via cargo ships; in addition, there had been talks with the FACH and Navy regarding potential help in case a real supply crisis struck. [23]

Case summary

WeekNew casesTotal cases
March 15–21, 202022
March 22–28, 202013
March 29 – April 4, 202025
April 5–11, 202005
April 12–18, 202005
August 30 - September 5, 202049

See also

Related Research Articles

Easter Island Chilean island in the Pacific

Easter Island is an island and special territory of Chile in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania. The island is most famous for its nearly 1,000 extant monumental statues, called moai, which were created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.

Hanga Roa Main town of Easter Island, Chile

Hanga Roa is the main town, harbour and seat of Easter Island, a municipality of Chile. It is located in the southern part of the island's west coast, in the lowlands between the extinct volcanoes of Terevaka and Rano Kau. The population of 3,304 comprises 42.63 percent of the total population of the island.

Rapa Nui National Park World Heritage Site in Easter Island

Rapa Nui National Park is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located on Easter Island, Chile. Rapa Nui is the Polynesian name of Easter Island; its Spanish name is Isla de Pascua. The island is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern extremity of the Polynesian Triangle. The island was taken over by Chile in 1888. Its fame and World Heritage status arise from the 887 extant stone statues known by the name "moai", whose creation is attributed to the early Rapa Nui people who inhabited the island around 300 AD. Much of the island has been declared as Rapa Nui National Park which, on 22 March 1996, UNESCO designated a World Heritage Site under cultural criteria (i), (iii), & (v). The Rapa Nui National Park is now under the administrative control of the Ma´u Henua Polynesian Indigenous Community, which is the first autonomous institute on the island. The indigenous Rapa Nui people have regained authority over their ancestral lands and are in charge of the management, preservation and protection of their patrimony. On the first of December 2017, the ex-President Michelle Bachelet returned ancestral lands in the form of the Rapa Nui National Park to the indigenous people. For the first time in history, the revenue generated by the National Park is invested in the island and used to conserve the natural heritage.

Pedro Pablo Petero Edmunds Paoa is a Chilean politician. He serves as mayor of Easter Island Commune. He was previously the Governor of the Easter Island Province from March 2010 to August 2010.

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Events from 2020 in Easter Island.

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