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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