Honiara becomes an emergency zone as govt amplifies preparedness efforts

When it comes to Fridays, Honiara often wakes up to an array of bustling activities. From a hustling commuter trying to get a seat on one of the city buses to busy looking locals running never-ending errands, Honiara is indeed a busy city. But today, Honiara is somewhat different or strange to be more exact.

Even at around 8 am when most offices are supposed to be opened or about to, the centre of the city was barely full and surprisingly, traffic too was way friendlier.

What a joy it must have been for the morning commuters.

Indeed, driving from one end of the city to the other this morning was definitely a far cry from the usual hustle, thanks to the seemingly flowing traffic.

But this quiet Honiara is not the kind of Honiara you used to know.

This is very much an alarmed Honiara, which just got its emergency mode switched on by the country’s Governor-General, Sir Rev David Vunagi, after COVID-19 cases were reported in neighbouring countries like Australia and Fiji.

At the beginning of the year when the coronavirus first made headlines worldwide for its infamous but scary clinical manifestations, many Solomon Islanders must have never in their wildest dreams thought that one day this Wuhan-originated virus would have such a huge impact on their ordinary lives.

Now that COVID-19 cases are reported in next-door countries, the need for Solomon Islands to be prepared is somewhat substantiated, although we are yet to record a case in the country.

And that is the course the government is taking in line with the fact that this deadly disease has now become a pandemic.

“We’re just a flight away from our very first case,” said a worried citizen who thinks the government should seriously cancel all flights into the country now to lessen our chances of recording a case.

Coronavirus, according to published facts, can be transmitted through droplets.

That is the fact that is troubling many, taking into account our behaviour as indigenous islanders plus the conditions in which most of us live.

Talking about being worried, many citizens are already finding it difficult to fathom the extent to which we will be affected.

“Work is very exciting. But this corona has killed the excitement…news just got in that we’re knocking off next week,” said a local, whose company is closing for an early holiday after a State of Emergency was declared by the Governor-General (GG) of Solomon Islands.

Market vendors on the streets too are beginning to feel the impacts of the pandemic.

“The closing down of the Kobito market has affected us immensely, ” an emotional market vendor told SIBC News this week after the government had decided to close all smaller markets around the city to discourage social gatherings-a possible means through which this virus can spread.

For local businesses, the hardest nut to crack is staying afloat.

“On a good day, this place is very busy, but during the past weeks, we seem to be very quiet,” confirms Hellen an employee of Taj Mahal, a popular Indian restaurant in downtown Honiara which is also experiencing difficulties with bookings.

The State of Emergency declared by the GG on the 25th of March was made to enable the government to come up with preparatory measures to get the country ready in case an outbreak of the virus occurs.

Following the GG’s announcement, today the country’s Prime Minister Hon. Manasseh Sogavare announced through the National Broadcaster, SIBC, that Honiara now becomes an emergency zone with six strong orders declared with immediate effect.

Ranging from extra measures to discourage congregating in groups to avenues to help citizens deal with the socio-economic impacts of the current turn of events, the six orders were created under the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations 2020 declared by the GG on the 25th of March.

Alongside the orders, the PM has informed the nation of some numeration measures by the Solomon Islands National Provident Fund which will allow eligible members of the fund to access part of their savings.

The PM further disclosed that the Members Discretionary Fund too will be released so that Parliament members can help repatriate their constituents to the provinces.

The media this week covered stories of people travelling in numbers to the provinces following a previous announcement by the PM for the non-working people of Honiara to head back to the islands.

With the possibility of further support by the members of Parliament, as announced today, more people are expected to leave for the home provinces in the coming days.

While we cannot guess at this stage how things will pan out in the next few days, we may possibly brace ourselves for sights of a mass exodus to the provinces as the government continues to encourage the idle members of Honiara to repatriate to their villages.

To date, Solomon Islands is yet to record a COVID-19 case, but on the ground, government decisions, the movements of people plus the social impacts on the lives of people are clearly showing signs that already COVID-19 is truly a force to be reckoned with.