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Under water, Timor Leste faces new challenge in preventing virus spread

Singapore: Already facing a worrying new COVID-19 outbreak, Timor Leste has been hit by devastating flooding and landslides, claiming the lives of at least 11 people, destroying roads, bridges and houses and leaving the capital Dili under water.

The south-east Asian nation’s Secretary of State for Civil Protection, Joaquim Gusmão Martins, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Sunday authorities were trying to separate the many displaced residents at evacuation centres on the advice of health officials in a bid to contain the virus.

An aerial view of the flooding in Dili, Timor Leste on Sunday.

An aerial view of the flooding in Dili, Timor Leste on Sunday.Credit:Machel Silveira

Dili’s population of 220,000 was ordered into lockdown last month along with the cities of Baucau and Viqueque following a concerning surge in community transmission.

The country had previously withstood the pandemic well – and still has not recorded a coronavirus death. But on the back of a spike in cases in recent weeks the natural disaster in Dili and on the south coast poses another major challenge for Australia’s close neighbours.

Overhead footage shot by drone operator Machel Silveira gave an impression of the extent of the flooding in the capital and Martins said late on Sunday there had been 11 people killed and more than 500 houses damaged or destroyed so far.

On Monday, Timor Leste is due to receive its first batch of the vaccine via the COVAX facility for development nations. But whether a plane with the AstraZeneca doses on board can land will depend on the state of the flood-prone Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport.

Roads and bridges have been destroyed in flash flooding.

Roads and bridges have been destroyed in flash flooding.

“We are hoping to receive the vaccine tomorrow if the airport is not flooded,” Martins said.

He said authorities were better prepared to deal with the rising waters after floods last year prompted them to created six permanent evacuation centres in Dili. Schools, closed during the lockdown, were also being used to accommodate evacuees.

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