COVID cases are on the rise on the Marshall Islands as the Pacific nation grapples with its first community outbreak of a pandemic.
Before the current wave of cases, there was no transmission in the group of islands, which are located about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and 3,000 miles east of the Philippines.
In a recent post on his Facebook account, Health Minister Jack Niedenthal said 75% of people tested on the main island of Majuro tested positive.
Before the current flare, about 60 COVID cases have been reported in the Marshall Islands throughout the pandemic.
Currently, more than 3,000 people have tested positive, with more than 1,000 testing positive in just 24 hours through Saturday.
The actual number may be higher as reported rates tend to be lower on weekends.
The Health Minister said seven people were hospitalized and two died.
The population of the archipelago is recorded as close to 60,000 people and vaccination rates reach about 70%.
However, Mr Niedenthal said he believes the vaccination rate is actually closer to 85% due to population decline over the past decade.
People are advised to seek clinical treatment only if they are experiencing severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, confusion or high fever.
Those with mild symptoms were asked to rest, drink fluids and take paracetamol.
“Some people are suggesting locking the door,” said Niedenthal.
“Simply put, the lockdown with this variant of Omicron BA.5 does not work.
“We know this, both historical and scientific evidence backs this up. As we learned this variant was burned through. [Federated States of Micronesia] three times faster than the CDC model’s original prediction.
“This is because in Micronesia most of us live in homes with multiple family members.”
He added that he believes cases will likely burn out within a month.
The Marshall Islands has maintained its largely COVID-free status for the past two years by restricting foreign access.
Official advice from the UK’s Foreign Office says: “The complete suspension of international visitors to the Marshall Islands continues and commercial flights to and from the islands remain very limited. There are a small number of repatriation flights.”
Two experts from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have been dispatched to the archipelago to help manage the outbreak.