Coronavirus Chile: desperate situation due to covid-19 on Easter Island, 1 of the most remote places on earth

The moai, the old guardians of Easter Island, did not serve as protection this time: the coronavirus has also arrived there, in one of the most remote inhabited places on the planet.

The moai, the old guardians of Easter Island, did not serve as protection this time: the coronavirus has also arrived there, in one of the most remote inhabited places on the planet. More than 3,500 kilometers from the coasts of the American continent, Rapa Nui - its ancestral name, a tiny point on the vast map of the Pacific water, this week recorded its first case of covid-19.
Coronavirus in Chile: the desperate situation due to the arrival of covid-19 on Easter Island, one of the most remote places on the plane
More than 3,500 kilometers from the coasts of the American continent, Rapa Nui - its ancestral name, a tiny point on the vast map of the Pacific water, this week recorded its first case of covid-19.

And unlike what has happened in almost all of Latin America, it was not a tourist who was infected on his trip through Europe or Asia.
"We have a positive case (...) that cannot be traced, which does not correspond to a person who recently arrived from somewhere else on Easter Island, but is a locally-originated case," the minister of Health of Chile, Jaime Mañalich.
The announcement of the first coronavirus case generated almost widespread fear among the Rapa Nui population, not only because they were in a place with difficult access and limited medical resources.

"The fact that he was a local person, without contact with visitors to the island, only suggests that the disease may be more widespread than we know," Pedro Edmunds, mayor of Easter Island, tells BBC.
"We are in danger as never in history. Right now, we are in a great dark cave," he says.

Uncertainty in cases of COVID-19

As epidemiologist Tolbert Nyenswah, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University (United States), explained, the fact that it is not possible to link a case with someone who came from abroad, means that the virus has already passed the initial phase of contagion.

In other words, the community has begun to expand.
But according to the Rapa Nui authorities, the concerns go further: the first confirmed case presented the first symptoms and he went to the only existing hospital on the island on March 11.
The result of his analyzes, however, was not confirmed until two weeks later.

"It was a time when more people could have been infected and all because on the island we do not have how to carry out the tests, we have to send the samples to the mainland, but since we do not have flights now, we cannot send them," explains Edmunds.

The island reported its first case this week.

According to the mayor, the island had collected more than 30 samples of suspected cases this week that they have not yet been able to confirm.
"There is no way to send the other samples to know if we have more cases or not, we are only suspecting. We should have more cases. We estimate that at this moment there should be more than a hundred," he says.
According to the Chilean government, an Armed Forces plane was planning to bring reagents to the island so that they could do the coronavirus tests there.
But in Edmunds' opinion, it is too late and Rapa Nui needs more than test kits at this point to face a potential outbreak.

 A delicate situation

Leo Pakarati, a local activist who began to use his social networks to draw attention to the situation on the island, assures that the arrival of the coronavirus has generated shock and confusion among the local population for fear that it may affect some of the most vulnerable -and important- sectors of the Rapanui tradition.
"Especially since the old people - the Koro and Nua, as we call them here - are very important in our culture," he said.
But according to Pakarati and Edmunds, the greatest risk is not only that it may affect the elderly or the most vulnerable, but that the island does not have medical infrastructure to deal with a potential outbreak.
In Rapa Nui there is a single hospital, the Hanga Roa, which must provide services to more than 10,000 people that the authorities believe are currently inhabiting the island (in the last census of 2017 it was more than 7,600).
"We only have three respiratory ventilators on the entire island. If we get to have only five or six cases that get worse, this gets out of hand because we barely have three," says Edmunds.
And moving potential patients doesn't even seem like an option to consider: Chile is five hours away by plane and the closest territory, the Pitcairn Islands, in Polynesia, is more than 2,000 km to the west.

The mayor also explains that the island does not have internists or intensive care specialists who can assist patients who need special assistance, nor epidemiologists who can help design a strategy against the outbreak.
"We do not have an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), we do not have an Intensive Diagnosis Unit (IDU), we do not have specialists in serious situations. The island is not prepared for this," he says.
When trying to contact the Chilean Ministry of Health to find out its response to the coronavirus crisis in Rapa Nui and its position in response to the indications of the island's authorities, but had no response.
However, after announcing the first case this week, the Health Minister assured that his portfolio would take "additional measures" given "the situation of geographic fragility and health infrastructure" of the island.

The island in quarantine

The coronavirus emergency on Easter Island began to be felt even before the detection of the first case.
On March 19, the Chilean government suspended all flights to Rapa Nui and decreed a 14-day quarantine to try to contain the arrival of the virus (although the first case with symptoms had come to the hospital nine days before that date).

The measure meant that 740 tourists were stranded there.
"It is a delicate situation because they are at risk and so are, we. We have done a titanic job of caring for, containing and feeding them, but we cannot continue to risk them or us," says Edmunds.
After several days of efforts by the local government, the Latam airline agreed to carry out at least two flights starting this Thursday to repatriate those who wanted to return home.
But Rapa Nui authorities fear that even if tourists leave, the situation is still unfavorable, since the infections are apparently already in the community.
And they attribute it to poor management from the mainland.
"We had been asking for weeks for flights to be canceled, to be quarantined so as not to put our population at risk, but the response was too late," says the mayor.
Island authorities fear the virus has already spread to communities.
Easter Island, which was annexed by Chile more than 130 years ago, has a long history of claims and complaints of institutional abandonment by the government of that country.
"We have a national authority that is not helping to understand this situation, what we have asked from the beginning is that the island declare itself a total quarantine and now that they give us access to resources to deal with it," says Edmunds.
"Until now, we only have a curfew from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and we believe that it is not enough. We are asking for and need total confinement to prevent the virus from spreading further. The government must understand that the situation on the island is not the same as that of the continent" he adds.

Although the Chilean health authorities on the State's plan to contain a potential outbreak on the island, after the announcement of the first case in Rapa Nui, the Chilean Health Minister informed the media that the island would have a curfew that would cover a longer schedule than in the rest of the country given its vulnerability.

An uncertain future

As the island faces "a never before seen threat," according to its mayor, fears for the future add to the current risks from the coronavirus.
"The island's economy is based on tourism. And people are running out of money and those who have do not have anything to buy," says Pakarati.
In this sense, he considers that another of the latent fears is related to supplies and food, on an island that receives almost all of its food from the mainland.
"Not knowing how many people are contaminated with the virus increases anxiety and shortages, a product of that fear," he says.
Edmunds, for his part, assures that in general, he sees the future of the island with an "optimistic and catastrophic" vision.
"I’m optimistic because I know that we are going to get out of this, but it might be catastrophic because I know that what is coming is going to be very hard for everyone. Many families do not know what they are going to live on, what may happen in the coming months," he says.
"Now we are more alone than ever ... more alone than ever in the middle of the ocean."


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