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Pacific Humanitarian Team: COVID-19 Response Plan

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Introduction

Since the start of the outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed more than a quarter of a million lives across over 200 countries and territories. The global impact is unprecedented, both in terms of prompting the scaling-up of public health preparedness and response and protection of vulnerable people, and in terms of requiring mitigation of broader social and economic shocks.

For the Pacific, despite geographic isolation, the risk of transmission to vulnerable populations remains high, and community transmission has occurred in the Republic of Fiji. Experience from other countries indicate that widespread community transmission (stage three) can quickly follow and should be anticipated. As Pacific Island Countries (PICs) begin to review options for gradually opening national borders, the region must maintain vigilance for new introductions of the virus from new foci of transmission, and the potential for a second epidemic wave when countries ease travel restrictions and local physical (social) distancing measures, as has been seen elsewhere. Several PICs also suffer from high levels of non-communicable diseases which could elevate the risk of severe cases of COVID-19, should an outbreak materialize.

Humanitarian needs are likely to emerge in the Pacific as a result of excessive pressure on health systems and the overall delivery of essential services, as well as secondary effects on employment, the economy and mobility, the rule of law, protection of human rights, and possible social discontent and unrest. While COVID-19 has a greater morbidity and mortality impact among specific vulnerable groups such as older people, the chronically ill, the immunologically compromised, and people with disabilities, its spread is linked to the rapid circulation of the virus in the general population. The effects of the disease are less severe in most cases in younger and otherwise healthy population groups, but indirect effects associated with preventive measures such as confinement and border closures, greatly influence the ability of people to secure a basic living, especially where tourism is a large part of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. These effects are also overburdening health-care systems, and putting pressure on education access and many other basic services, aggravating difficulties that existed prior to the pandemic.

Understanding the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic is crucial, including key risks and vulnerabilities impacting issues such as social cohesion, conflict management, gender inequality and gender-based violence. The PHT and its counterparts are currently gathering and analyzing information on the situation in the region, to determine how vulnerable people assisted through ongoing operations might be affected. This means identifying additional vulnerable groups in need of assistance, introducing new activities, reprogramming resources and working with donors and counterparts to prioritize strategic funding for the response. Although needs assessments and analysis are seriously constrained by restricted mobility and avoidance of social interactions, country response plans are being used as primary sources to inform and prioritize PHT assistance.

This PHT COVID-19 HRP reflects the current resources dedicated to the humanitarian response in the region, and seeks to mobilize additional resources needed to ensure that gains already achieved in these countries are not lost, and that urgent needs arising as a direct result of COVID-19 are addressed. The activities described in the plan will be further developed in country consultations to finalize the initial response and adapt it as country priorities evolve. Organisations who are part of this HRP will use it as a basis for discussing specific proposals with bilateral donors and partners, in order to support cluster responses. This HRP will be updated on a regular basis as new information emerges from countries, and priorities adjusted to reflect the evolving situation.

During this process, we also intend to work and consult with development partners to review how priority risks and vulnerabilities can be addressed through strategic development interventions across relevant frameworks to avoid exacerbating humanitarian needs. For one, the envisaged socio-economic impact assessments will provide important data which will inform the development response. Other global instruments such as the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund established through the SG’s Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19 will also be leveraged to address resilience needs in the region. Finally, bilateral funding streams for development, such as the New Zealand-UN Pacific Partnership, are being reviewed in close cooperation with relevant donors, to ensure that they support the most urgent priorities in the new context marked by COVID-19

First round of support to the Pacific from the SG’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund

On 15 April, the UN SG launched a first round of financing from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, which aims to help low and middle-income countries cope with the repercussions of the pandemic, either by supporting the immediate health response, or by providing resources to mitigate the socioeconomic fall-out of the crisis. Six PICTs were included for consideration in this first round of funding, and their proposals are summarized in the table below. The proposals are aligned with the cluster priorities outlined in this HRP. The maximum envelope for each of the countries is $300,000 for this funding round. At time of writing, some of the proposals have already been approved, while others are still under consideration.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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