Kiribati is a collection of islands and is one of the poorest and most remote of all countries in the world with a Christian population of only 116,000.
The islands have a total area of 800 square kilometers and are vulnerable to any rise in sea level.
Kiribati, which gained independence in 1979, has coconut palms everywhere, reports Star Online.
They provide everything needed to exist on the island – wood for boats and buildings, thatch for roofs and floors, fiber for ropes and fabric.
Coconut, known as moimoto on the island, also provides hydration and nutrition, but is now claimed to be the key to the island’s coronavirus-free status.
Rooti Tianaira, a primary school teacher in the island’s capital Tarawa, said: “We are using moimoto to defend ourselves against the virus. »It is very rich in vitamin C and vitamin A.
“Our ancestors ate grated coconut and noni – another native fruit, known for its pungent taste but known for its health benefits – for breakfast, and drank sour toddy (fermented coconut juice) .
“They were strong, disease free.
“So now these local fruits are used as medicine to strengthen our immune system, that’s the idea. They are sold in stalls on the road. “
Despite the number of coconuts outnumbering the island’s population, Rimon Rimon, a local journalist, dismissed the allegations of profiteers by saying that it was common for them to be sold by traders
He said, “In fact, the sale of coconuts is not unusual in Tarawa.
“Not everyone has their own coconut palm, especially in the most populated areas, so those who are unemployed but have a tree at home sometimes sell coconuts.
“But say they can prevent the coronavirus? It’s new to me! “
Moimoto’s powers are one of the many “silly rumors” about Covid-19 circulating in Kiribati, according to Mr. Rimon, which is accelerated by the recent growth of social media in a republic with UN status as less developed. (PMA).
“This is a major problem here,” said Rimon.
“Most people have only accessed the Internet recently, and that just bombards them with information.
“They don’t know how to differentiate fake news. So they promote what is not true.
“Coconut is harmless, but there is also a rumor that kava can stop Covid-19. “
Kava is a slightly narcotic drink and if ingested could put you at high risk of contracting a contagious disease as it is usually drunk together in a shared bowl in which the cups are soaked, drunk and soaked again.
It is traditionally prepared because it is made by chewing the root of the Piper methysticum plant and mixing these fibrous bundles – saliva and everything – with water.
“It was a ridiculous rumor and the authorities had to launch a campaign to tell people that it was not true,” said Rimon.
“I am an educated man, I have lived abroad, but many people here have not been exposed to the outside world. You would be surprised at the kinds of things they think are a problem.
“The government does not have a social media policy, so it is difficult to control where people get their information.
“There are only two official sources of information for Covid-19 – press releases from the Department of Health and the president’s office – but people share everything they think is true.
“The government needs to look at how people access information, warn them that they will be in trouble if they spread rumors.”
Ms. Tianaira has kept in touch with the news digitally and has joined Facebook since becoming the proud owner of a smartphone.
It is so new on the Internet that it is easily absorbed by fake news, including misinformation about coronaviruses, like Israel developing a vaccine; garlic can kill Covid-19; hand sanitizers are a fire hazard and the virus was born from the consumption of bat soup in China.
Ms. Tianaira was not sure if this was true, she also believed that it was necessary to send a free laptop by sending chain mail.
A video is circulating in Kiribati showing corpses thrown from a boat, claiming that it was the bodies of victims of coronaviruses that were eliminated in New Zealand, which has sowed fear among nascent Internet users of Kiribati.
After Ms. Tianara was assured that it was not true, she said, “Thank goodness.
“I have been worried since I saw him a week ago. I shared it with friends and we were afraid to eat fish. “
The lands of Kiribati, consisting almost entirely of crushed coral and with limited freshwater sources, are inhospitable to most crops and livestock.
“Our protein comes from the sea,” says Ms. Tianaira. “If the fish is poisoned, we will starve to death. “
Another rumor that sparked fear and conflict spread after a sick stranger arrived ashore from a visiting ship, prompting false claims that they had a coronavirus.
“A sick Russian crew member was brought ashore, requiring medical assistance,” said Rimon.
“He was brought in and the doctors were allowed to look at him to see what was wrong.
“He had a lung problem, so one person started to say that this man had coronavirus, and people started to spread it.
“This has resulted in the closure of some schools and forced other parents to remove their children from schools.”
Schools remained open and “people started arguing with teachers, saying” you don’t control our kids – the coronavirus is here! “”
Panic spread to the Betio district of Tarawa, where the main seaport is located and where the sailor was taken to hospital.
Betio is one of the most densely populated communities on the planet, with 2015 census figures showing 17,330 people living on 1.54 km² of land.
It is tied with Delhi and Kolkata but without the skyscrapers.
Betio is also depleted and dirty, with open dumps and the locally named red beach as well because the sand has been clouded by decades of pollution and wastewater.
Practicing high levels of hygiene would be difficult and social distancing impossible.
Rimon, who lives in the nearby town of Bairiki, is not gullible in the face of alarmism but acknowledges the potential disaster if the coronavirus strikes Betio.
“It would be catastrophic,” he says.
“We wouldn’t be able to control it. If even the big developing countries like Italy are overwhelmed, we would have no chance.
“Our health systems are not even as good as those of the developing countries around us. From time to time we have an epidemic of diarrhea or common flu and even they put us to the test, but at least we have medicine for it and we know how to treat it.
“But with the coronavirus, from what we’ve seen internationally, that would destroy us. “
What was wrong with the Russian sailor is not known, but he was treated and returned to his ship.
And all of the Covid-19 tests are sent to Australia, which means the results are weeks or even months now that all international flights to Kiribati have been stopped.
Assuming that the Russian was not carrying coronavirus, banning all air traffic would seem to be the most effective way to keep Kiribati safe, even if it caused problems for a country so dependent on imported goods.
There are only two countries from which you can fly to Kiribati.
One is Nauru, a tiny republic on a single island with a population of less than 13,000, little international trade, and minimal tourism.
It is also free from Covid-19.
The other is Fiji, which reported 18 cases of coronavirus as of May 6.
A relatively small number, but Fiji is the most popular tourist destination in the region so tourists can import the killer virus.
“It was a big scare when Fiji had their first confirmed cases,” said Rimon.
“Fiji is a hub for the Pacific region. If you want to go out in the world, you have to go through Fiji, and it’s only a three hour drive.
“The confirmed cases of Covid-19 have caused a lot of panic here, and that is why the government stopped the planes. Now we are completely cut off from the world. “
Cargo ships still arrive in Tarawa, but this mode of transportation is naturally much longer than air cargo, and – apart from medical emergencies – crew members must stay offshore for 14 days before approaching from the port, which further slows distribution.