On Thursday, Fiji's Prime Minister confirmed the country has its first coronavirus case.
That came as Samoa -- another Pacific island nation -- announced it had a suspected case. According to the Ministry of Health’s news release, it could be days before the case can be confirmed.
Other island nations have also reported cases, including French Polynesia, and the US territory Guam.
This is bad news for Pacific Island nations, which are some of the most remote and aid-dependent in the world.
Last year’s measles outbreak in Samoa shows how easily disease can spread among its population of 200,000 -- and suggests the country would be ill-equipped to cope with the coronavirus.
During the measles outbreak, Samoa declared a state of emergency. Government offices and schools closed, and children were banned from public gatherings. But it wasn’t enough to prevent more than 80 deaths -- a devastating number for such a small population.
Pacific Islands have taken strict measures. Samoa now requires all arrivals -- including residents -- to undergo a medical examination within three days before arrival.
The way New Zealand has responded also shows how concerned it is for its much smaller neighbors. On Saturday, New Zealand announced that almost everyone entering the country needs to self-isolate for two weeks. At the time, the country’s leader Jacinda Ardern described the measure as the strictest in the world.
Of course, the rule was aimed at limiting the spread in New Zealand. But it was also put in place to look out for Pacific Islands.
Although people coming from the Pacific would be allowed to avoid the self-isolation rule, anyone traveling to the Pacific would need to meet strict new exit rules, including a health assessment. Anyone who had traveled outside New Zealand in the past 14 days wouldn’t be allowed to go to the Pacific.
On Thursday, Ardern announced new measures, closing off the country's border to almost all non-New Zealanders -- including those coming from the Pacific. But again, protection of the Pacific was part of the plan.
“It remains the case that the protection of the Pacific from Covid-19 is a major concern for the New Zealand government and these measures support that," Ardern said.
“A small number of exemptions to the new measures can be sought for humanitarian reasons, essential health workers and citizens of Samoa and Tonga who need to travel to New Zealand for essential reasons.
New Zealand is a gateway to the Pacific. It’s one of the few countries with flights to the Pacific Islands. It also has a large Pacific Island community, some of whom regularly travel to the islands.
As one of the biggest aid donors to the Pacific, New Zealand would likely need to step in and help in the event of a coronavirus crisis -- just as it did during the measles outbreak.