Delta variant sends deaths soaring in remote French Polynesia

Papeete (AFP) –


Covid infections are soaring in the sparsely populated Pacific territory of French Polynesia, with health authorities reporting 54 deaths from the virus over the weekend as the Delta variant spreads among a largely unvaccinated population.

More than 300 people have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic hit the remote archipelago -- home to 280,000 inhabitants. Over half of those deaths have come in the last three weeks.

The territory has so far recorded 7,591 infections, though the true figure is likely higher as most asymptomatic people are not being tested.

High rates of diabetes and obesity have made the population more vulnerable.

The territory's limited health care system has struggled to cope, with one major hospital setting up beds in hallways to handle the rising number of patients. Bodies have been loaded onto refrigerator trucks to relieve pressure on the overwhelmed morgue.

The Polynesian archipelago is now under a curfew and the Society Islands -- which include the largest island of Tahiti and other more densely populated areas -- are under lockdown.

But the rules, which allow for a modicum of economic activity, have been difficult to enforce.

The territory's president Edouard Fritch was forced to apologise after being spotted playing guitar at a wedding party attended by hundreds of maskless people in defiance of the regulations.

Schools have been closed for at least two weeks and efforts are being made to teach online but many underprivileged students do not have access to the internet.

The French government has voiced alarm about Covid-19 infection rates in its overseas territories.