Tokelau readies for COVID-19

Shows people by the shore of the islands of Tokelau.
Photo: Te Mana/Tokelau

COVID-19 being a novel disease has 'no respect for national borders, social boundaries, political systems and cultural values.’ It is spreading rapidly and extensively, taking everyone to heights of fear and panic.

Even the smallest, remotely located islands without much connection to the big world, are feeling unsafe and exposed.

Surrounded by the ocean and with the 24-hour ferry ride from Samoa as the only access to the peaceful and picturesque islands of Tokelau, its leaders through its Health Department are taking a hard stand to ensure that COVID-19 will be prevented and the people will be protected .

With a population of approximately 1,400, the health system of this three-atolls nation is exceedingly burdened with increasing non- communicable disease cases; in addition, the lack of facilities, health workers and other medical necessities. These, are some of the crucial challenges amongst others, that motivates Tokelau to scale up all precautionary measures to avoid COVID-19 from causing immense distress to their vulnerable communities.

For such small islands, they were committed to follow and assess the situation of the outbreak at the global level. From there, they picked up some lessons, identified their weaknesses and constraints and moved forward to plan how they can be best prepared to respond to this crisis.

Tokelau, like most of the Pacific island nations, does not have the clinical capacity to manage any COVID-19 case in a severe and critical condition. Importation of COVID-19 into Tokelau is to be avoided at all costs. Border restrictions are in place and all passengers go through a health screening in Samoa before travelling over. They need to present a medical certificate and anyone who has travelled to countries where COVID-19  is spreading, will not be allowed to board.

On the trip over to Tokelau, the crew of the Mataliki ferry, have been trained to look out for suspected cases and there are information and items available on the ferry for the passengers to practice safe hands, respiratory hygiene and social distancing.

But no one can be too careful, and if COVID-19 ever finds its way through to Tokelau, the health workers are prepared to be able to diagnose and provide treatment immediately. The UN through the World Health Organization (WHO) Office based in Apia, has been on the ground and engaged the people of the three-atolls nation in a series of trainings and information sharing sessions to understand the symptoms of COVID-19, to familiarize with the basic measures on how to be safe and be ready.

The Tokelau Preventative and Preparedness Plan for COVID-19 will guide the plans and action that the people of Nukunonu, Fakaofo and Atafu will need to take, if ever COVID-19 disrupts the normal affairs of their communities.

Tokelau is one of the four member countries served by the United Nations through its Multi Country Office based in Apia Samoa. Tokelau is officially referred to as a nation by both the New Zealand government and the Tokelau government. In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly included Tokelau on its list of non-self-governing territories.


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International Labor Organization
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
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United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Department of Safety and Security
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations Population Fund
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