Confusion blamed for quarantine fiasco
The Chairman of the National Emergency Operation Center (N.E.O.C.), Ulu Bismark Crawley, has blamed "confusion" for why at least one passenger on an Air New Zealand flight arriving Tuesday was not forced to enter mandatory quarantine.
Zachary Schuster was instead allowed to enter "self-isolation" at an undisclosed location.
Asked why Mr. Schuster was afforded different treatment to other incoming passengers, who have all been required to be quarantine for 14 days at different locations in Upolu, Ulu said there was confusion about the implementation of the Cabinet directive on Tuesday.
The Government has not responded to queries asking if Mr. Schuster was the only passenger to not be forcibly ushered into a mandatory quarantine facility.
Passengers arriving in Apia on Tuesday were placed in compulsory quarantine at St. Therese Samoa Retreat and Accommodation.
One of them, Soraya May, earlier told the Samoa Observer she was not afforded any choice about where she was able to undergo quarantine.
“A person told us to get on a bus, saying: ‘Everyone has to get on the bus that is the rule, didn’t they tell you, you’re leaving; going up to the hospital'," she said.
Some have had their own rooms, others are in central ward-style accommodation where some have complained of the potential health risk of having so many potentially infected people living in close quarters.
Ulu said there was “confusion” around the quarantine process on Tuesday when asked about Mr. Schuster's case.
The Samoa Observer sent queries to the Ministry of Health and the Government Press Secretariat asking how many passengers escaped quarantine and what criteria was used to determine who was placed in quarantine.
No reply was received as of press time.
But Ulu said that while most incoming passengers complied with requirements to have medical tests within five days of their arrival in Samoa, confusion reigned about a newly imposed Cabinet decision on Tuesday.
The Government announced new orders for the State of Emergency on Tuesday, shortly before the arrival of the Air New Zealand flight, closing Samoa's borders from the following day.
Passengers who arrived in the interim were to be compulsorily quarantined.
“It was half an hour before the flight landed that the Cabinet moved to make [quarantine] compulsory and the poor people were confused,” Ulu said.
Flight NZ 254 was the last flight by Air New Zealand to Samoa before the Faleolo International Airport was shut down.
This week the Samoa Observer received numerous complaints from some of the passengers on Flight NZ 254 that they were quarantined without any notice.
But the Government is yet to say how many passengers were not subject to the compulsory lock down and why.
It was reported earlier this week that the Australian High Commissioner, Sara Moriarty, was not quarantined due to diplomatic immunity.
The Samoa Observer contacted Leautuliilagi Vanessa Barlow-Schuster, Mr. Schuster's mother, for comments.
“I don’t really want to make comments at the moment, because that’s being handled by the government officials and also the fact that we have been in direct contact with Director General of Health [Leausa Dr Take Naseri]," she said.
“There was a misunderstanding and as a result we have all been contacted."
Asked whether they were aware of the compulsory quarantine mandate, Leautuliilagi said: "There were no orders and everyone was confused at the same time, the Ministry of Health advice came out around 3pm around self-isolation, and so there was a lot of confusion and that’s why contact was made.
“The Health officials have made contact and he’s being quarantined, not to St. Therese [St. Therese Samoa Retreat and Accommodation]."
She refused to divulge where her son was being self isolated.
The Samoa Observer contacted the Ministry of Health’s Deputy Director of Public Health, Tagaloa Dr Robert Thomsen for comments and he referred queries to the Press Secretary, Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga.
The Samoa Observer sent an email to Chief Executive Officer, Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, that oversees the Press Secretariat Office in which Nanai works, the C.E.O. referred questions back to the Health Ministry.
Follow up calls and text messages to Leausa has not been responded to.
Mr. Schuster was on the same flight as Ms. May, NZ254.
Ms. May also said that a lack of advance warning was her main concern but also a lack of sensitivity to a serious lung condition she had which could be seriously exacerbated by simple coughs and colds.
“I think that it is a great idea that the Government is taking extreme measures to protect the general public,” she said.
“What really upset me is the fact that no one said anything to the passengers.
“I would have preferred if they put them back on the flight back to New Zealand.
“The concern is that they are all put together and that if one person is sick then everyone will be sick.”
On Wednesday a planeload of Samoan students studying in Fiji arrived back in the country in a specially-arranged flight but were also bused into a quarantine facility.
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi apologised to the passengers in quarantine during his weekly media programme on Wednesday.
He added that at the moment, the Catholic Church is in the Lent season.
"People are trying to make personal sacrifices, a sacrifice to make as an offering to the Lord,” he said. He said that the passengers must make a sacrifice to save the lives of their children," he said.