PCP MEDIA RELEASE - Tuesday 31 March 2020

AUSTRALIA MUST URGENTLY RAMP UP PACIFIC COVID-19 ASSISTANCE

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Pacific region reaches 114, the Australian Government must urgently ramp up its assistance to Pacific nations to help them manage the health and economic impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic on their communities.

We fully appreciate that the impacts of COVID-19 on Australians are very challenging and welcome the Morrison Government’s efforts to minimise the consequences of this pandemic for vulnerable Australians. At the same time, we must also remember that our direct neighbours - small Pacific nations - are potentially much more vulnerable than we are, from both a health and economic perspective. Without urgent and adequate assistance, the impacts of this pandemic in
the Pacific could be devastating,
said Corinne Fisher, Coordinator of the Pacific Calling Partnership (PCP), an initiative of the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education.

On 3 March 2020, when there were still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Pacific, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, announced a number of COVID-19 assistance measures for the Pacific. However, given the growing number of confirmed cases since this announcement, as well as the enormous scale of the pandemic, it is now urgent that Australia reviews and increases its assistance.

Following his meeting with G20 leaders on 27 March, Australia PM Scott Morrison committed to reconfiguring Australia’s development assistance to ensure that critical health services continue to function, as well as manage the immediate economic impacts of the pandemic. However, Mr Morrison gave no further details or timeline for this review and did not specify whether additional funding would be allocated to this crisis, said Ms Fisher.

“We are confronted by issues that are beyond our capacity to handle and the COVID-19 pandemic is causing immense fear and panic in our community. Our best chance of coping with a possible outbreak is the support of our Tuakoi (neighbours) via the urgent provision of resources, such as testing kits, hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment for our health care workers.” said Maina Talia, a Tuvaluan currently undertaking his PhD in Australia.

My people in Kiribati are feeling defenceless, weak and unsafe and are in desperate need of help right now. The fear of what could happen if COVID-19 takes hold is very intense. We look towards Australia as a leader in the Pacific and this issue is no exception.” said Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang, PCP’s Pacific Outreach Officer and herself from Kiribati.

We are now in an emergency. We call on the Morrison Government to urgently ramp up its assistance to the Pacific and clarify how and when it will do so. Time is of the essence for particular items, such as COVID-19 testing kits, because if the infection spreads in these vulnerable communities, the virus is expected to cause an even greater death toll than in more resilient communities such as our own, said Ms Fisher.

“We also call on the Morrison Government to ensure that any funding specific to Australia’s COVID-19 response in the Pacific is new funding and is not drawn from Australia’s current aid budget.” concluded Ms Fisher.

Please click here to access our briefing on COVID-19 and the Pacific dated 31 March 2020

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