SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will provide Pacific island nations new rapid diagnostic COVID-19 kits in a joint initiative with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States and New Zealand, the Australian foreign minister said on Friday.
The first kits arrived in Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and Nauru and supplies will reach a further nine Pacific island countries in the next two weeks, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
The equipment was procured and delivered with support from Australia, Payne added.
Many Pacific Island countries have not had in-country capacity to test for the novel coronavirus which emerged from China late last year, and have had to send specimens overseas, including to Australia.
The kits will allow the WHO to work with Pacific health departments to achieve faster and more effective testing, with results expected in less than an hour, the Australian government said.
The whole Pacific Island region has relatively few cases of COVID-19. People have been urged to stay home with some countries imposing fines of thousands of dollars and imprisonment for breaching the tough restrictions.
Australia is the largest aid donor to the Pacific islands and has sought to step up its engagement out of concern it risks being overshadowed by Chinese aid and financial support.
Australia and New Zealand are considering opening their borders to each other, creating what they call a trans-Tasman “bubble”, as they look to restart their economies after getting the virus under control.
There is speculation the move could be extended to include Pacific Island nations.
Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Stephen Coates