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Isolated island in Pacific Ocean experiences first COVID-19 cases of the pandemic after arrival of fully vaccinated, triple-tested missionaries who were in quarantine

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Sara Medici/Getty Images

The first signs of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, surfaced in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 12, 2019. By December 2020, COVID-19 had reached every continent on the planet after the first cases were detected on Antarctica. Through the entire COVID-19 endemic and pandemic, the remote island nation of Kiribati had managed to not have a single case of COVID-19 until Jan. 19, 2022.

Kiribati is an isolated island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a population of roughly 122,000. Kiribati closed its borders 10 months ago, then reopened the country this month.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chartered a plane to Kiribati this month to bring home 54 of the island nation's citizens. Many of the travelers were missionaries who had left Kiribati before the country closed the border.

There were highly rigorous precautions to ensure that the travelers didn't bring COVID-19 to the unspoiled island nation.

First, everyone had to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Second, passengers had to test negative for COVID-19 three times in nearby Fiji before arrival. Third, they had been in pre-departure quarantine for two weeks before the flight. Fourth, they were put in quarantine with additional testing when they arrived home, according to the Associated Press.

Despite the over-the-top safeguards, two-thirds of the travelers were diagnosed with COVID-19 after arriving from Fiji on Jan. 15. Of the 54 passengers, 36 tested positive for COVID-19.

On Jan. 19, Kiribati reported 37 COVID-19 cases. As of Jan. 28, there are 181 confirmed COVID-19 cases and no deaths.

Kiribati declared a state of disaster and quickly instituted COVID-19 restrictions, including lockdowns, curfews, and quarantine sites.

There are 33% of Kiribati citizens who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

There was a similar situation last month in Antarctica when nearly two-thirds of the research staff based at the Princess Elisabeth Polar Station became infected with COVID-19 despite strict health protocols in place. The workers at the Princess Elisabeth Polar Station were also fully vaccinated, took multiple PCR tests, and quarantined before arriving at the research facility.

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