Samoa steps up border protection on coronavirus

Samoa has stepped up travel restrictions at its borders in the hope to prevent the deadly coronavirus from arriving on shore.

The list of countries with known cases of the novel coronavirus continues to grow, with at least five cases now in Australia. 

As a precautionary measure, Samoa has barred travellers from countries with known cases, and under a Cabinet approved travel advisory, passengers must spend “at least 14 days in a country free of the virus and undergo medical clearance prior to travel to Samoa.” 

Additionally, all “non-essential” public sector travel has been put on hold.

Last week, the Ministry of Health began health screenings at Faleolo International Airport and Mata’utu Wharf, for private and commercial passengers, especially anyone who has travelled from China.

So far the measures have resulted in two Samoans being placed in quarantine as they had been in China for two days prior to landing back home, and six Chinese deported from the airport for failing to meet the new immigration rules.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 5,974 cases and 132 deaths from the disease in China, and 59,990 people under observation according to FluTrackers.com.

The number of cases in China alone has now surpassed the number of infections from SRS in 2003, the South China Morning Post reports. 

The World Health Organisation states the virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days. There is not yet concrete evidence that people without symptoms are infectious, and work is being done to determine that.

On Monday, responding to reports that the virus is transmissible when infected people show no symptoms, Professor Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious diseases from the University of Edinburgh said the evidence currently available is not enough.

“In my view it is premature to conclude, on the basis of the evidence currently available, that the new virus can be transmitted before symptoms appear,” he told the Science Media Centre.

But in the absence of evidence, precautions based on other viruses should be taken, like maintaining good hygiene and hand washing.

Professor Wendy Barclay from the Department of Infectious Disease in the Imperial College London said if evidence proves the virus is transmissible with no symptoms, it may make airport screening measures ineffective.

“Many of the respiratory viruses that spread amongst humans do transmit even in the absence of symptoms, including influenza and other cold viruses,” she said.

“They are carried into the air during normal breathing and talking by the infected person. It would not be too surprising if the new coronavirus also does this.  

“If this does prove to be the case then controlling the spread does become more of a challenge, and measures like airport screening are unlikely to stem the virus effectively.”

Outside of China, the United States, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, France, Vietnam, Canada, Cambodia, Nepal and Germany have also reported cases, but no coronavirus deaths.

Elsewhere in the region Fiji is screening passengers on the direct flights from Singapore and Hong Kong and interviewing them to check for travel to Hubei Province, the epicentre of the virus.

Palau has stopped all Chinese charter flights, and flights from Hong Kong and Macau have been suspended. 

In Papua New Guinea, the health department is screening passengers at the airport and the national airline, Air Niugini, is not taking passengers from China without a medical certificate from a certified doctor.

Like Samoa, the Marshall Islands will not take passengers who have not been in a country unaffected by the virus for 14 days.

A heat-seeking camera has been installed in Wallis and Futuna’s airport, screening all arrivals, French Polynesia reports it has systems in place and consider the risk low, and Tonga is monitoring passengers at the International Airport.

The Guardian reports that Australia is planning to begin evacuating elderly and young Australian citizens in Wuhan, Hubei Province and quarantining them on Christmas Island for up to 14 days.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this plan is based on current medical advice and may still change.

“We cannot give a guarantee that this operation is able to succeed,” he said. “And I also want to stress very clearly that we may not be in a position if we’re able to do this on one occasion to do it on another occasion.”

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