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Private doctors back COVID-19 measures

The President of the Samoa Association of General Practitioners, Le Mamea Dr. Limbo Fiu, says its members stand firmly with the Government on its decision to all but close borders to prevent the arrival of COVID-19.

The Association would also welcome closing the border to New Zealand if the number of cases escalates.

With 1098 cases in Australia and 102 in New Zealand, the small island nation of 190,000 is now in a crucial opportunity to prevent widespread transmission of the disease, which the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic this month. 

On Monday, New Zealand reported its first two cases of community transmission, cases that could not be linked to travel or contact with a recent arrival, and responded by putting in place a four week lockdown on the country.

Samoa, with no confirmed cases has done the same, with nearly two weeks on the clock before Government reviews its current policies.

“We feel this week and the next couple of weeks will be critical for us, and the Government has responded rightly and we commend them for what they have done,” Le Mamea said.

“This time last week there were 20 flights coming into Samoa, and as of yesterday there are two flights allowed to come into the country, with only Samoan residents and citizens with a COVID-19 test.

“What Government has done is make it very unlikely for the virus to come into Samoa.”

But those measures should not leave citizens complacent, he warned, because without broad testing there is no way to conclusively say there is no COVID-19 already here.

Locking down public movement has proven to be effective in slowing and ultimately ending the transmission of the virus, he said.

New Zealand’s cases should be watched carefully and if they rise further in the coming weeks, the border should be closed even to New Zealand, the President added. 

“If Government decides to have a complete border closure, we will also support that […] we welcome even stronger policy from the Government.”

With the leadership taking extreme and costly measures to prevent COVID-19 entering Samoa, Le Mamea said now the onus falls to its citizens to play their part.

Because the Government does not have the means to conduct broad testing, nor to collect a large amount of samples to send abroad for testing, people have to isolate themselves physically and be as clean as possible until the threat of the spread is gone. 

“Once a virus comes into the country and we have evidence of community transmission it will be too late, and we will not be able to mount an effective response to that.

“From our perspective, we recommend strongly to the people of Samoa to heed the advice of Government and not to congregate, not to leave your homes, and keep your distance from others.

“Start doing the recommended personal hygiene and cough etiquette, wash your hands, stop touching your nose and mouth. People must heed that advice.”

Waiting for a positive test to start taking the virus seriously will be leaving it too late, he warned. Village leaders, mayors and parents need to take their responsibilities seriously to promote and supervise best public health practice.

 “If the virus takes a foothold in this country we will not cope with the consequences. So we have to act as if the virus is already here, start practicing what needs to be done in their own homes. 

“You must contribute. If one person in the village or home is not doing their role, not heeding this advice, not only they will be affected but most likely the members of their family and community will be too.”

General practitioner Tautalatasi Dr. John Adams said the next thing for Government to focus on is enforcing the ban on public gatherings.

“I think the Government should be commended for this lockdown,” he said.

“The only way we can get COVID-19 is from overseas, and that is why border control is so, so vital and for all physicians to remain on high alert.”

He said if people do not take responsibility for reducing their movement and gatherings, they will cause a widespread community transmission of the virus if it gets into Samoa.

“I think people do not fully understand the characteristics of this virus. The only way we can kill the virus is for people to stay home.” 

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