At the moment the Solomon Islands have officially recorded no cases of COVID-19. However, this certainly is no guarantee that the virus has not arrived here, as suspected cases have to be sent off to Australia for testing and take 4-5 days to be returned. We are currently awaiting the results of a several tests and have already begun lockdown procedures across the Islands. Additionally China is the Islands main trading partner, with a significant population of Chinese as well as Philippines, Malaysians and Vietnamese all regularly travelling back and forth for the last several months- it is more likely that the virus has not been properly tracked here due to the lack of an adequate and organised health care system.
Currently the government have already begun a lockdown, with people being sent back to their home islands, schools, shops and markets all closing. The threat of the pandemic is considerable here, with generally poor hygiene practice and understanding, people living closely in communities and many living under one roof means the option of self-isolation is not viable and with only one hospital on the main island and no ventilators, an outbreak of COVID-19 will likely hold extremely severe consequences.
Furthermore, and potentially more of a threat than the virus itself, is the economic impact. Being a collection of islands, the Solomons is especially reliant on outside trade for food and medicine supplies. However, with several neighbouring countries stopping or reducing their shipping and flights, there is a real threat of food shortages and other essential items becoming inaccessible. At the moment there is a plan for a weekly humanitarian cargo flight from Australia organised by WHO and Australian Aid. However, if restrictions are in place for too long this could pose a serious threat to the social and economic stability of the Solomons. Moreover, the closure of the markets here in Honiara means that in lots of cases people’s sole source of income has been removed overnight.
In light of this, the Brotherhood and the local church are preparing to step into the breach should the situation overwhelm a government who simply does not have the organisation or communication systems available to control the situation. Particularly given the Brother’s role during the ethnic tensions in the early 2000’s (for which they were awarded a UN peace prize), the Brotherhood are a central and trusted community for the people of the Solomons and they are already playing a crucial role in relief efforts- through their spiritual support, but also in practical guidance in modelling and sharing best practices of hygiene and health care as well as helping people financially who have no income following the closure of shops and markets. During the tensions the government and other authorities were unable to do anything and the people turned to the Brothers. So now with the virus, the Brothers are preparing spiritually and practically to support the people through this.
Secretary of the Melanesian Brotherhood