In episode 5 of COVIDcast, Lowy Institute’s Director of Research, Alex Oliver, sat down with Jonathan Pryke and Shane McLeod to discuss how the crisis of coronavirus is affecting Australia’s immediate neighbourhood, the Pacific Islands. Jonathan is the Director of Lowy’s Pacific Islands Program and an expert on politics, economics, and development in the region. Shane directs the Lowy Institute’s Australia-PNG Network and was formerly a foreign correspondent in PNG.

Each week since the severity of the coronavirus crisis became clear, Lowy Institute experts have been sitting down to discuss the implications of coronavirus for Australia, the Asia-Pacific region, and the world. Episodes one, two, three and four are already online, and this is the fifth instalment in the series, which we’ll be continuing on a weekly basis as this crisis unfolds.

In this episode, our Institute experts discuss the situation in the Pacific and some of the specific risks of coronavirus to the region including the burden on its health care system. As Jonathan argues:

COVID-19 is barrelling down on the region…[and] the risk is very acute that we could get some major breakouts that the health systems in this part of the world are just completely ill-equipped and incapable of responding to.

Alex and Shane discuss the reliance on tourism in the region, seasonal workers schemes, and the impact of government shutdowns on economies in the Pacific. On PNG, Shane argues that the virus would have a huge impact on the country’s “fledgling” cruise ship industry and the communities it supports, adding that the risk of spread of coronavirus in PNG is compounded by plummeting oil prices that are “blowing a huge hole in PNG’s finances” as well as scuttling future resource project expansion plans.

Finally, on Australia’s role in the global response to the spread of the virus in the Pacific Island region, Jonathan argued that any response would have to be two-pronged, involving both health and economic assistance:

On the economic front, [the] focus here is going to have to be on speed. Getting money to these countries so they can remain solvent and keeping people employed … the only way we can react quickly to help the economies of these countries without spending more money, is going to be through doing cheap loans to the region.

COVIDcast is a pop-up podcast for anyone interested in understanding the effect of coronavirus on global politics, hosted by our resident experts and powered by the Lowy Institute, with production assistance from Madeleine Nyst and Erin Bassett.

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The Lowy Institute is part of the  Pacific Research Program