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Festooned with hibiscus flowers and woven palm fronds, scores of guests gathered for a celebration during New Caledonia’s wedding season. The aroma of grilled fish and yams bathed in coconut milk wafted over the revelers on the island of Lifou, population 10,000.

The celebration on the atoll in late August seemed safe. For a year and a half, New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, had escaped the coronavirus pandemic. Quarantines and border controls kept the virus out, just like they had done during the worst of the influenza pandemic a century earlier.

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