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Will Samoa be able to test for COVID-19?

Samoa is still no closer to receiving any of the COVID-19 testing options destined for its shores, with border restrictions, flight cancellations and logistical challenges miring the path.

Since the pandemic swept the globe, Samoa has been in the unlucky position of having no capacity to test for the virus, having never acquired a Polymerase Chain Reaction (P.C.R.) machine needed to test samples taken by swab test.

But with two approved options recently added to the market – a rapid antibody test and a genetic test for GeneXpert machines – Samoa’s chances of genuinely knowing its COVID-19 status are higher than before.

In the last two months, Samoa has seen commitments of testing supplies from far and wide. The Chinese Embassy in Samoa and the Chairman of the Board of the Sheraton Aggie Grey’s Wenying He purchased 200 and 3000 rapid antibody tests.

The Government of China has committed 100 P.C.R. tests for Samoa, which would need to be flown to New Zealand to be processed.

And the World Health Organisation with the Government of Samoa, and the Health Specialist Centre (a private clinic in Moto’otua) haves ordered 6000 and 500 GeneXpert tests, which can be tested immediately on island, taking just 45 minutes to reveal results. 

Put together, the tests would cover five per cent of the population, a number the World Health Organisation is comfortable with having originally planned for three per cent of Samoa to be tested.

But every single test is on foreign soil with no clear date of arrival, nor pathway for them to get to Samoa.

The Chinese Embassy donation of 200 rapid tests are in Auckland, having successfully been delivered from China via FedEx in March.

The Chinese Government’s donation of 1000 P.C.R. tests (previously 500) are still in China awaiting proper cold chain transportation.

With all commercial flights between China and Samoa cancelled, the 3000 strong donation of rapid tests from Mr. He are stuck in China too with a host of stakeholders working to organise a mercy flight to bring not only those tests but also other medical supplies and people. 

The World Health Organisation’s country representative for Samoa confirmed mid-April that 6000 GeneXpert tests are set aside for Samoa, but could not confirm where they would come from nor when, but that the end of April/beginning of May was the target.

And the order of 500 GeneXpert tests for the Health Specialist Centre, which will be coming from the producer’s supplier in Papua New Guinea has no clear date of arrival either.

The Pacific Islands Forum, having established a Pacific Humanitarian Pathway for COVID-19 to channel supplies around the globe, may hold the answer to getting the tests from China to Samoa.

This week it successfully landed hundreds of thousands of medical supplies in Fiji in the first Humanitarian Pathway flight, with several more planned. 

In the neighbouring Cook Islands, 1,070 people have been tested for COVID-19 by the Cook Islands Health Ministry, which is about seven per cent of the resident population.

It was enough for the Prime Minister Henry Puna to officially declare the country ‘COVID-19 free’ after the tests analysed in New Zealand were all negative. The Cook Islands are also expecting a supply of GeneXpert tests in order to test on island if necessary.

The Ministry of Health has not explained how the tests will be used, and what strategy or criteria it will follow to decide who to test.

The National Emergency Operations Centre has not confirmed whether it has progressed any more emergency flights carrying tests from anywhere in the world, nor whether the Air New Zealand flight landing on Friday will be carrying any tests.

In responding to questions, Air New Zealand did not specify whether it will carry medical supplies nor COVID-19 tests to Samoa on the flight on Friday, saying only that it will "operate a cargo flight carrying essential supplies from Auckland into Apia."

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