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The coronavirus and being proactive

Just as the country welcomes news of the discharging of the last measles patients from the National Hospital, the world has been alerted to the emergence of a new virus out of China, which has already claimed 17 lives and infected over 400.The World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) is concerned with the pneumonia-type virus, which is transmitted from person-to-person and has a genetic makeup similar to the SARS (also a coronavirus), which claimed 774 lives in 37 nations in the early 2000s.While authorities in China continue epidemiological investigations, the W.H.O. stated in an advisory on their website: “Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.”A number of countries around the world have reported cases of coronavirus in the last week with authorities in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the U.S. setting up facilities at selected airports to screen passengers who visited the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was discovered.Early this week the matter was raised in the Parliament by M.P. Olo Fiti Vaai, who said Samoa should be on the alert given the number of Chinese entering Samoa.“In other countries they are already using their Pandemic Emergency plans. In America for example, doctors are going to airports to screen people coming in from China,” Olo said. “Just like American Samoa did when they got wind that measles was in Samoa, their first response was to monitor the port of entries, the wharf and the airport. That’s where they stopped the virus.”But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi brushed off Olo’s concerns, telling the Salega Member of Parliament: “You just found out yesterday [about this virus] and yet the Ministry of Health, knew about it a long time ago and they have been making contacts and undergoing the usual preparatory works.”Having only come out of a measles epidemic, which claimed the lives of 83 people and recorded over 5,000 infections, you would have thought that our leaders would be more careful in how they responded to concerns about public health.The Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) has confirmed it is working on a plan to tackle the virus – should a case be discovered in Samoa – which will be revealed to the media when it is completed.But knowing that the coronavirus is being detected in other countries through persons, who had exposure to an infected man or woman and are mobile, should compel our first line of defense at our borders to step up.One takeaway from the deadly measles epidemic is that there was a lack of an effective outbreak response from the Government and the Ministry, when the first 16 cases of measles were recorded by the local health authorities in early October 2019. By the end of that month, three deaths were linked to measles and suspected cases increased to over 300, despite the shutdown of early childhood education facilities nationwide.The Government can issue all sorts of assurances. But looking at how the measles crisis was handled, verbal assurances mean nothing and the clock will not stop ticking, until drastic action is taken. Last night the Government released a statement, which highlighted mandatory requirements for passengers arriving in Samoa to fill in health declaration forms, and undergo screening by health authorities at the Faleolo International Airport.The statement, approved by the Cabinet, included restrictions on Government personnel travelling to the Asia Region, especially Japan, Thailand, South Korea, United States of America, Australia and Europe.Now that is what we call proactiveness and drastic action on the part of the Government, as our nation strives to avoid another public health crisis posed by a new virus.We hope these measures put in place by the Government will reinforce our first lines of defense against a virus that does not have a cure, and be followed to the letter by our bureaucrats, when it comes to avoiding travel to states on the blacklist and ensuring the screening at the airport is done meticulously.And the concerns expressed by the President of the Journalism Association of Samoa (J.A.W.S.), Rudy Bartley, should also be taken on board by the heads of the relevant Government Ministries and State agencies.Being proactive means keeping your phone lines open, answering questions, and coming under scrutiny in terms of your role as a policy implementer, as ultimately your role as a bureaucrat is one of service to this nation. Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless. 

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Street Talk

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Public support ban of children from church services

Alofa Isaia, 25, AfegaI think there should be a ban on young children from attending church services as they are the ones most vulnerable to measles. Keeping them at home is the best option in order to lessen the risks of spreading the virus. If the children are allowed in church this will make the measles spread to other children and make them sick. For us adults we can handle the pain but the children cannot and this is why I totally support the ban on children from church services.Fotu Faafetai, 37, SavaiiI totally support the ban on children from church services to prevent the measles from spreading from one child to another. Measles can spread fast and affect everyone and the children are the most vulnerable. Church service is a part of our everyday life but the health of our children is more important to us. I have children as well and I know how painful it will be if my child got the measles and loses his or her life.Aisepka Lokeni, 57, Nu’uWe should listen to the advice from the church ministers to ban children from attending church services, as the risk of them spreading the measles to other kids is high. The Bible says we have to obey our leaders, and that is why we should listen to our leaders and save our children and vulnerable people from dying. I totally support the ban to prevent measles from spreading even faster.John Ale, 50, Vaitele FouI support the ban on children from attending church service because this will prevent measles from getting spread to other children, and getting the other children infected. We all want to go to church, but going to church service with children who have measles – they will only spread it and this will affect other children, and the disease will spread.Fotulafai Reupena, 61, Vaitele FouI take off my hat to the government for the decision to ban children from attending church services and public areas due to the measles outbreak. We should protect them from the virus. I read media reports of many children losing their lives from measles, if this fatalities continue there could be no more young generation for Samoa. We have to protect our own children, and the children are the future of our country. Faititili Tipasa, 40, AfegaI totally support the ban on children from church because I know that the children are the ones most affected by the measles. I prefer children not attend any church service as they can be easily affected if they still go and it will lead to more infections. Ensuring the children stay home will prevent measles from spreading, and protect other children infection. 

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Letter to Editor

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China and developments at Mulifanua

Kevin Hart’s letter of 03 September complained about the Chinese being a likely buyer of Government’s shareholding in the Sheraton Samoa Resort at Mulifanua. Which raises the question; what is wrong with Chinese investors getting involved in tourism development in Samoa anyway especially when there isn’t much interest from elsewhere? Virtually every other country in the Pacific and the world including the US and Australia, China’s foremost critics have been enjoying the benefits of Chinese trade, investment, and tourism. So why not Samoa?Whether people like it or not, China will be a major player in the region, and it will only get worse with time for those who wish it otherwise. And in any case, one can’t do business with China as China’s critics do, and then seek to deny the Pacific Islands the same privilege by engaging in fearmongering about China’s intentions.  Samoa’s deputy prime minister called this bahaviour recently, patronizing and offensive. It is also dishonest. One would have thought that with colonialism still fresh in people’s minds, China’s detractors might have tried some more subtle way to make their case about China being a threat to Island nations. After all, these are nations that have only recently won back their own sovereignty from countries that are accusing China, a victim of colonialism itself, of malevolent intent in the Pacific.  Samoa’s prime minister made the point at the Pacific Island Forum that China is not an enemy of Samoa, which adheres to a “friend to all and enemy to none” approach to old and new comers alike to the region. The Pacific islands have legitimate economic needs and environmental interests that the former colonial powers in the Pacific have been unable to meet or in some cases totally ignored. Over the years, the Pacific Island nations have even been blamed for supposedly lagging in economic growth behind other parts of the world that receive similar levels of aid. But more recent work on the subject has confirmed what the Pacific Islands have known all along. And that is when you are small, highly fragmented and horribly isolated, your costs of attempting any form of economic activity are always going to be high no matter what you do.  China’s willingness and ability to help bridge this aid gap is welcomed therefore. It also helps that China has a different approach in its relations with the tiny and insignificant Pacific Island states and peoples. And it happens it’s an approach that the Pacific peoples themselves understand all too well and appreciate. Its an approach that recognizes the inherent dignity of peoples irrespective of colour, money and level of development. The result is that in spite of the fear mongering about China’s supposedly hidden agenda even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the Pacific Islands have seen no reason to believe this crude and offensive propaganda.  There appears to have been a notable increase lately in the number of visits by navy vessels and personnel from the US and Australia doing the usual public relations soft sell with various groups including school children. The visit on board these war machines and the helicopter rides for the children will have been the thrill of a lifetime for many. One suspects that we will be seeing more of these as the West sets out to contain the rise of Chinese influence in the region. The visits bring back to mind the colonial days of gun boat diplomacy in the Pacific when control of native populations was exercised mainly through the firepower of visiting warships when turned on native communities that failed to toe the line   Samoa’s prime minister is reported to have said recently in relation to the stepped-up competition that Samoa’s main interest and focus of diplomacy is to raise standards of living and provide for its people’s needs. In the circumstances, public relations and making friends with young people will only go so far in winning influence especially in the face of China’s hard cash. Airy catch phrases such as Step Up, (Australia), Pacific Uplift, (UK), something about Family? (US), can easily backfire. A meeting between Chinese leaders and Pacific Island leaders being hosted by Samoa in October this year should be quite an event especially at this time. It will most likely see among other things the unveiling of some new aid and trade initiative by China.   And as for Chinese interests possibly helping to bring more air services to Samoa, that too would be a welcome relief from the monopolistic practices of Air New Zealand, Virgin Airways and Fiji Airways, the three carriers that operate services in Samoa today. After being badly burnt in yet another one-sided partnership with an Australian carrier, the Samoan government did the right thing for Samoa in starting up Samoa Airways in spite of the risks and poor timing. When Polynesian Airlines started international services to New Zealand in the late 1970s, it did so mainly on the strength of Samoa’s own ethnic traffic between the two countries. The airline did well even then, until gross mismanagement grounded it with heavy losses. In spite of its inauspicious beginnings, Samoa Airways if properly managed and run, (by professionals preferably), has every chance of being the catalyst for Samoa to have the airline services it so badly needs. But it is helpful as government embarks on this to be reminded that we have been down this very road before. The lessons of history are there and must be learnt and heeded, if their repetition is to be avoided. Incidentally, as for a possible flooding of the To-Sua with tourists from China if direct charter flights were to start between China and Samoa, I have a suggestion. Make the climb down to the water even more challenging than it is now. That should encourage only the young and the brave to take the plunge. Afamasaga F ToleafoaLetava

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