Tiny nation running out of wood for coffins as Covid deaths explode

·5-min read

A tiny archipelago is struggling with Covid-19 with coffin makers beginning to run out of wood as the death rate rises.

Pierre, a mortuary agent living in French Polynesia, told Tahiti Nui Television he is seeing his orders for coffins triple since the archipelago became gripped with the Delta variant.

Poussy Timau added it’s proving difficult to fill the showroom currently.

“For example, for a type of coffin made in wood locally, we can no longer do it because we no longer have the necessary type of wood,” Ms Timau said.

She added in some cases families have arrived with both parents to bury at the same time.

Gravediggers, wearing protections, carry the coffin a person who died from the Covid-19 at Uranie Cemetery in Papeete in French Polynesia.
Gravediggers, wearing PPE, carry a deceased Covid-19 victim at Uranie Cemetery in Papeete in French Polynesia. Source: Getty Images

French Polynesia has more than 2,800 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants; it holds France’s record for the highest infection rate.

But that’s only an estimate: Things are so bad that the multi-ethnic territory of about 300,000 has stopped counting new infections as local health authorities redeployed medical staff to focus on patient care and vaccinations instead of testing.

A third of pregnant women have Covid-19, with about half showing no symptoms at all.

Dr Stéphane Sauget, a maternity ward manager, said coronavirus can lead to birth defects and 22 times the mortality rate in the mother.

“We know that there are two to three times more obstetric complications, growth retardation, induced prematurity, acute foetal distress or severe maternal complications,” Dr Sauget told TN TV.

Of the 463 virus-related deaths reported in French Polynesia throughout the pandemic, most took place over the past month. Vaccine skepticism, high obesity and diabetes rates, and the decision to reopen to some tourists this summer have been among the explanations for the current health crisis.

People arrive to be vaccinated at a temporary vaccination centre against Covid-19 set up in the centre of Papeete, French Polynesia.
People line up at a temporary vaccination centre. Source: Getty Images

To curb infections, local authorities imposed a curfew at first, then localised lockdowns and now they’ve shut down schools. Obligatory vaccinations have been announced for some sectors, despite objections.

Vaccinations are rising, but eight months into the campaign, only 38 per cent of the total population is fully vaccinated, while 50 per cent have received a first dose. 

Meanwhile, more than 90 per cent of those in intensive care are unvaccinated, as were a large majority of those who have died.

Island nations continue to struggle with Delta strain

Many poor island nations have struggled to handle the virus due to a lack of health resources and vaccine skepticism.

Seychelles, an archipelago off East Africa, has had 103 deaths.

While that might not seem like many, the population of the islands is only about 96,700 people. It has also recorded more than 1500 cases in the past 28 days, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

New Caledonia, which is also considered French territory, announced a state of emergency on Thursday. It is one day after it went into lockdown, Radio France Internationale reported.

A woman holding an umbrella walks in a street in capital Victoria.
A woman walks the street in Seychelles' capital of Victoria. Source: Getty Images

It was after three new cases were found in the islands which were once considered to be free from coronavirus.

"The virus is spreading and it's likely that several dozens of Caledonians are now infected," the territory's president Louis Mapou said.

The islands have had 202 cases since the pandemic began but 66 of these have occurred since the start of the week. New Caledonia also has a small population of just under 288,000 people.

Rich countries told to pause booster shots

There is a way to stop the spread internationally, including to poorer nations across the globe, according to the World Health Organisation.

But it would mean refraining from making booster shots unavailable and donating excess vaccines.

Although, that suggestion appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said he was "appalled" by comments by a leading association of pharmaceutical manufacturers a day earlier that said vaccine supplies were high enough to allow for both booster shots and vaccinations in countries in dire need of jabs but facing shortages.

"I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world's poor should be satisfied with leftovers," he said in Geneva on Wednesday.

Tedros had previously called for a "moratorium" on booster shots through the end of September.

The Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a bilateral meeting with Swiss Interior and Health Minister before signing a BioHub Initiative with a global Covid-19 Pathogen repository in Spiez laboratory on the sideline of the opening of the 74th World Health Assembly at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
The Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for a mortatorium on Covid-19 booster shots. Source: Getty Images

But wealthy countries - including Israel, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain and the US - have begun or are considering plans to offer third shots of two-dose vaccines to their vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

The WHO chief said he received "clear support" at a meeting of G20 countries this month for a WHO target that all countries vaccinate at least 40 per cent of their people by the year's end.

"A month ago, I called for a global moratorium on booster doses, at least until the end of September to prioritise vaccinating the most at risk people around the world who are yet to receive their first dose," Tedros said.

"There has been little change in the global situation since then.

"So today, I'm calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of its population."

WHO says 5.5 billion coronavirus vaccines have been administered so far, but 80 per cent of those have been to upper- and middle-income countries.

Tedros said rich countries had offered to donate one billion vaccine doses but under 15 per cent of those doses had "materialised".

with The Associated Press

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