Two tonnes of medical supplies touch down

A Samoa Airways plane has returned from Australia empty of passengers but carrying two tonnes of vital medical supplies, including hand sanitisers, asthma medication, wraps and masks, the airline confirmed.

A spokeswoman for the airline confirmed that a Samoa Airways flight that left for Australia on Monday arrived early on Tuesday carrying vital supplies for the fight to keep the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 at bay. 

A flight with over 80 passengers left Apia early on Monday, bound for Sydney to help repatriate Australian and Japanese citizens leave the country after border closures. 

The plane returned home on 7.30am Tuesday morning packed with cargo needed by the health system to manage the potential spread of COVID-19.

The supplies will be a welcome relief to a health system with no access to a clear supply chain as borders close all over the world and the airline industry increasingly cancels routes.

The Samoa Airways crew will now be quarantined after their arrival back in Apia, the spokeswoman added.

Meanwhile, Samoa awaits 700 test kits to help diagnose the population for the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. So far 26 tests have been done, and 20 have been negative with six still in the Ministry of Health awaiting transport to a test-capable laboratory.

The Chinese Embassy in Samoa confirmed that 500 P.C.R. based test kits, which need to be sent to New Zealand for processing, are without proper cold chain transport to get to the island.

The 200 rapid test kits, which test for antibodies in blood, purchased by the Embassy were sent through FedEx and got stuck in New Zealand due to its own border closures.

The Government of China is working closely with Samoa’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Health on getting the kits to Samoa as soon as possible, a spokeswoman for the Embassy said. 

To combat the effect of border closures on the islands, the Pacific Islands Forum and the World Health Organisation have convened a COVID-19 Incident Management Team.

Alifeleti Soakai, the Political Issues Adviser and Team Leader Emergency Response Team of the Pacific Island Forum said P.I.F is working with New Zealand and Australia to have private planes or military jets bring essential supplies to the region.

The W.H.O. has been working towards this for two months, Mr. Soakai told the Samoa Observer.

He could not confirm whether the planes would also be used to transport testing kits to reference laboratories capable of testing for COVID-19, and said the supplies on board would depend on each Pacific Island country’s specific needs.

A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said as well as working with P.I.F and W.H.O., the country is working in the region to monitor the impact of border closures and flight restrictions on supply chains.

“We are focusing on using existing commercial aviation and shipping supply chains to continue to support the needs of Pacific Island countries.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia did not respond to a request for comment.

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