Lifting of the S.O.E., normalcy and taking stock of our health

There was chatter in the air and within the church halls in Samoa on Sunday morning, when children who were longing for a return to normalcy after the state of emergency (S.O.E.), joined their parents in praise and worship. 

The sight of the little ones in church and accompanying their parents in the shops in Apia after service are the surest signs yet of life getting back to normal, following the decision by the Cabinet in a special meeting on Saturday to lift the S.O.E.

In a statement issued after Saturday’s special Cabinet meeting, the Government announced that it was lifting the country-wide S.O.E. and moving to the recovery phase of the measles epidemic.

"At a Special Meeting this afternoon Saturday 28th December 2019, Cabinet unanimously approved the cancellation of the State of Emergency Orders in place since last November as a result of the Measles Epidemic," the statement reads.

"In its decision, Cabinet has approved the State of Recovery for Samoa to commence immediately."

The S.O.E. that was declared by the Government in mid-November – to give local authorities extra powers and resources to contain the spread of a deadly measles epidemic – was unprecedented. 

The last one in Samoa was declared seven years ago after Tropical Cyclone Evan wreaked havoc on the country in December 2012. But this one that was lifted at the weekend is a first for a public health crisis that has claimed 81 lives.

The six-week length of the S.O.E. also had a major impact on the lives of citizens and residents. Primary schools, colleges and the National University of Samoa were abruptly closed, air and sea travel around the country restricted, public gatherings banned, and children under 19 years of age ordered to stay indoors.

The country and its 196,000 population were literally in lockdown for over two months and it is an experience that both young and old Samoans will never forget. 

Let us pray and hope that it is an experience in this country’s history that will never be repeated. And we do not say this lightly, especially after marking the 100 years anniversary of the deadly influenza epidemic in November last year, which claimed the lives of approximately 8,500 Samoans in 1918.

As the families of the deceased from the measles epidemic begin the journey to pick up the pieces and find closure after three months of catastrophe, we are reminded of the need for everyone to remain vigilant after the lifting of the S.O.E.

With no new fatalities over the last four days since the one death recorded on Christmas, the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly growing brighter as each day goes by.

The effort by the Government early this month to throw everything into its mass vaccination program appears to be paying dividends, with experts even acknowledging that the late intervention saved lives.

“While the intervention came late, the efforts to vaccinate so many people so fast, and the commitment and tireless work by so many health workers and community to this end, as well as the care for those many affected, is a monumental achievement. This has saved lives,” said Auckland-based vaccinologist, Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris.

As the Government machinery moves into a “state of recovery” in line with the directives of Saturday’s Special Cabinet Meeting, we hope families use this time to take stock of all that has happened and become more health-conscious.

With the measles infection rate diminishing and the death toll having reached a plateau, we must also maintain our vigilance against other health challenges such as non-communicable diseases, which remains an ongoing concern in Samoa.

Knowing 2020 is only two days away, setting health goals for your household in the New Year would go a long way in ensuring your children, husbands and wives become more proactive and embrace every opportunity to undergo frequent health checks.

Challenging your loved ones to announce a New Year’s resolution on the last day of 2019 – which is linked to promoting a healthy lifestyle and targets different members of your family – is fun and could be the first step towards kicking those bad habits we often take for granted, but if left unattended could endanger lives. 

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

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