Is Samoa prepared for the coronavirus?
The spread of the coronavirus is creating fear on an unprecedented scale throughout the world. Understandably so.
Given the rapid rate with which it is travelling from country to country and the number of innocent lives it has already claimed; this is the time to pay attention. For a small country like Samoa, it is even more prudent we stand ready for the worst-case scenario. We have to.
Looking at some of those big countries, including New Zealand and Australia, and what the virus has done to them, we need to be on the alert. If the coronavirus has infiltrated those countries with their well-funded health systems, Samoa is definitely not immune.
While we’d all like to believe that COVID-19 could be kept at bay, there is absolutely no guarantee of that happening, that’s the scary truth. It will only take one person to bring it to these shores and despite the commendable effort being made at the airport to screen everyone coming into Samoa, that is cold comfort at this stage.
The worry is that our health system and supporting infrastructure will not be able to handle such an eventuality given the challenges we already face. The way the measles crisis completely overwhelmed our health system should be a warning. When we think back to the measles crisis, Samoa was only spared because of the generosity of our international donors, partners and volunteers who unselfishly came to the rescue.
With the coronavirus taking the world by storm, this is unlikely to happen because most of these countries already have enough problems to deal with. The virus has already placed their systems under enormous pressure that they will find it difficult to help anyone else.
But that’s not all, with the measles, Samoa was able to vaccinate our way out of it and people were treated successfully. COVID-19 is a new mutation for which there is no vaccine and so much about its transmission, treatment and lingering effects is unknown, even to the world's best doctors
Which is why it is critical that this country and the relevant officials need to come together to start thinking about what Samoa can do if the virus is found here. We are not just talking health officials, we mean everyone. From businesses, churches, villages and anyone who has something meaningful to contribute.
Looking at the world today, the extreme measures being taken by a number of countries, including the total shutting down of borders to other nations is a reflection of how serious they are. It is undoubtedly an expensive exercise but the decision would not have been done without considerable thought about saving what is most important at this point of time, lives.
In Samoa today, we need to start seriously thinking along those lines.
The Government, if they haven’t already started this conversation, should consider the possibility of a total shutdown of Samoa’s borders in a bid to keep our people safe. We accept that this is going to be an extremely difficult decision to make given the social, commercial and economic ramifications.
But when it comes to saving lives and sparing our nation from further heartache after the events of 2019, there is no place for complacency. Samoa cannot take a chance.
The question of whether Samoa can survive without the outside world for the duration of a total lockdown is an important one. One suspects we will need to resort to our old ways of living, including turning to the land, sea and domestic farming for survival.
And while that consideration is being made, another important question is this: Does Samoa have a Pandemic Plan? If the answer is yes, what does it entail and how will it be applied when needed?
Among the lessons at the beginning of the measles crisis was clearly the absence of such a plan and when it was finally put in place its effective implementation. The Government cannot wait until the coronavirus arrives before it starts talking about the Pandemic plan and how it applies to members of the public. The time to do that is now.
Just as they need to be a lot more proactive in terms of public messages about how people can protect themselves and practical steps to do that. There needs to be a public official who is articulate, well spoken and brings about a reassuring presence to front a publicity campaign to tell Samoa what is happening and what they can do.
We cannot stop fear and panic. It is human nature especially given the precarious situation the world has found itself in with COVID-19.
But feeding people relevant, accurate and vital information will go a long way to ensure they feel confident in this nation’s ability to respond should this deadly virus lands here eventually. And it will be great to have a Pandemic Plan.
Stay safe, wash your hands, don’t panic and may God help us all!