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The Solomon Islands announced that they lost the battle to stay free of the coronavirus, leaving only nine small, remote areas that have not reported a single case.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in a televised address to the Pacific island nation that a student who recently traveled from the Philippines on a return flight with 96 passengers had returned a positive test.

"It pains me to say that despite our joint efforts to prevent the pandemic from entering our country, we have lost our COVID-19 free status," Sogavare said on Saturday.

Urging the archipelago's 600,000 residents to keep calm, he said contact tracing and other measures to prevent the virus from spreading had been activated and no lockdown was needed.

The , who tested negative three times in the Philippines before boarding, was found positive in a routine test upon return to the capital, Honiara, and is now in isolation.

Eighteen other students who tested positive remain quarantined in Manila.

Since the Solomon Islands borders closed in March, more than 400 students have been stuck in the Philippines who have been badly hit by the virus.

Under pressure from parents, Solomons officials organized three return flights, the first arriving last Tuesday.

Despite confirming his first case of COVID-19, Sogavare said the government will continue to work to get the remaining students home.

It is believed that only the small and remote island states and areas of Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are still free of the virus.


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© 2020 AFP

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