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Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

New Caledonia has declared all schools in the Southern province closed for two weeks from tomorrow after health authorities reported at least three cases of the covid-19 delta variant have been detected in the territory.

All flights to the Loyalty Islands have been cancelled, reports Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes.

Territorial President Louis Mapou addressed New Caledonians on the strict lockdown details tonight in a joint television statement with French High Commissioner Patrice Faure.

This is the third lockdown in New Caledonia in 18 months, but for most of that time the territory has been covid-free.

“Vigorous measures introduced in March 2020 and March 2021 will again be imposed,” said Faure.

On Friday, New Caledonia’s Congress unanimously voted to make vaccinations against covid-19 mandatory, reports RNZ Pacific.

The government’s spokesperson, Yannick Slamet, said this made New Caledonia the fourth country to impose compulsory vaccination — after Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Vatican.

New Caledonia is covid-19 free but only 32 percent of the population has been vaccinated.

The new law, which will come into effect when it is gazetted, is also meant to clear the way for France to order anyone entering New Caledonia to be fully vaccinated.

While New Caledonia’s autonomy gives it control over healthcare, border control is in the domain of the French state.

The secretary of the Congress commission finalising the text, Philippe Michel, said that being covid-19 free gave the authorities an extraordinary opportunity and an immense responsibility that this situation could be maintained.

The joint statement tonight by High Commissioner Patrice Faure and New Caledonia’s territorial President Louis Mapou. Video: Nouvelles Calédoniennes

However, he said, with the threat of the delta variant the current strategy would not hold up.

While the borders are largely closed until the end of December, all medical personnel as well as airport and port workers must get vaccinated by the end of the year or face a US$1750 fine.

There is no provision to punish any member of the public for rejecting a vaccine.

Michel said it was important not to believe that doing nothing is a solution, adding these measures are taken to try to avoid the type of catastrophe seen in French Polynesia.

The head of the commission Milakulo Tukumuli, who is one of the few unvaccinated members of the Congress, said that given the situation in French Polynesia and given scientific updates, he would get vaccinated.

He said there was a consensus which was a good thing.

New Caledonia closed its borders in March last year and has been operating a compulsory quarantine system for those allowed to enter.

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