Assist businesses and circulate factual information

Countries around the world are bracing themselves for a recession brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A recession is a decline in economic activity due to a decrease in spending and is generally not good for a local economy. The impact can include an increase in unemployment, lower income generation opportunities and a rise in the cost of living.

Located in the Pacific, we would be kidding ourselves to assume Samoa would be protected from the global economic impact of the virus. 

We already import a large amount of goods and services from abroad, these include refined petroleum that is a major driver of the local economy as well as poultry meat, which is affordable for most Samoan families.

Add remittances to the list, with the impact of the pandemic in Australia and New Zealand already threatening thousands of jobs including those held by Samoans, and you can imagine the cascading effect on families here on the island.

It is why we have been asking questions of the Government and the private sector – through the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry – which highlighted the importance of a stimulus package to cushion the impact of the pandemic on local businesses.

Chamber President, Jennifer Ula-Freaun, told this newspaper recently that they are yet to seek financial assistance for their members from the Government, and are currently focusing on public awareness of the virus, travel restrictions and how people can stop the spread of the virus.

“No, we have not touched on that specifically,” she told the Samoa Observer. “We fully understand that with all things there needs to be a proper assessment and consideration must be given to those areas that require this.”

The Ministry of Finance CEO, Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, says the M.O.F. has not received any such requests for a stimulus package for the industry.

“First thing, there needs to be a request, but as of now I have not received a request,” he said.

“And that’s the request that we will review because we cannot decide based on one sector. We have to see what sectors are all affected and then see what available resources we are able to provide.”

Leasiosi is of the view that if there is to be a stimulus package sponsored by the Government, it has to be a cross-sector measure, and not just restricted to tourism. 

This is where the role of the Chamber becomes critical as a bridge between the private sector and the Government. 

Chambers of commerce in economies around the world are already in contact with their governments to discuss a variety of measures. They include the deferral in the payment of various taxes including income tax, footing the cost of paid sick leave (directly linked to COVID-19), loans for small-to-medium-size businesses, and financial support for companies with over 300 employees.

Members of the Chamber are expecting its leadership to begin talking to the Government and not leave the matter until it is too late.

Confirmation by the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) on Wednesday of a suspected case on our shores shows our vulnerability as a nation, despite the Government imposing strict travel conditions on incoming passengers and reducing the number of incoming international flights in recent weeks.

Surely, in the aftermath of the deadly 2019-2020 measles epidemic, the public would expect the M.O.H. and the Government to be on top of their game to ensure our people are protected.

And to become a voice of assurance to the 190,000 population that they have everything under control and there is no need to panic.

But the Government’s information dissemination systems appear disjointed and could add to the confusion and fear if not addressed. Last Saturday, the M.O.H. refuted reports of a coronavirus case and described the rumours on social media as false. 

Three days later, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi told TV1 in an interview that two people suspected of having coronavirus symptoms were tested at the weekend, but their results were negative.

On Wednesday the M.O.H. issued a statement advising of Samoa’s first coronavirus suspected case – who was admitted at the T.T.M. on Wednesday “after experiencing flu-like symptoms for two days” – and the patient’s sample was sent to Australia with the test results expected back in 10-20 working days (pending customs clearance).

The 10-20 working days (pending customs clearance) turnaround time for the coronavirus test results would obviously become a public health issue, especially for a totally unaware population, in terms of exposure to a highly contagious virus.

So on Thursday afternoon, the Government Press Secretariat issued a statement, saying: “Due to the urgency of the request from the Ministry of Health (MoH) we have been advised by laboratories in both Australia and New Zealand, that the turnaround time for testing samples from Samoa will be between 3 to 5 days.”

We have to heave a sigh of relief that the test results are expected back sooner rather than later, but why has it now only become an “urgency” for the Ministry when the public expected that from the first day? 

The people of Samoa deserve nothing but the truth on this developing public health crisis, in order to allay their fears and to combat misinformation, currently being peddled through various social media platforms.

Think safety first Samoa and ensure you wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. Have a lovely Friday. 

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