No to proactive coronavirus testing: Health chief

The Director-General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, has said Samoa will not begin actively testing the community for COVID-19 cases, saying  the Ministry lacks for anything “unnecessary.” 

Speaking to the media during a training workshop on COVID-19 communication last week, Leausa said Samoa could not match the Cook Islands, which has tested hundreds of people in order to officially declare itself COVID-19 free.

“We cannot copy what is happening in the Cook Islands because they may have over 10,000 tests,” the Director General said. 

“With the number of tests we have we do not have that luxury. It becomes unnecessary.

“We would rather screen and test when we know it will be positive rather than trying to throw the net widely into the sea and you don’t know whether it will be positive. It becomes an incidental finding.”

Currently Samoa is receiving 150 COVID-19 tests per fortnight from the World Health Organisation in order to test repatriated people before they leave quarantine. 

It also recently received 2000 tests from the United Nations Development Programme, the largest delivery so far of tests to Samoa.

Leausa said in an ideal situation, with more test kits available to Samoa, repatriated people would be tested on arrival and before they leave quarantine.

“We have to work with what we have.”

Samoa recently acquired a P.C.R. (Polymerase Chain Reaction) machine, increasing its testing capacity significantly as it can now process swab tests on island. Previously it had to send test kits to New Zealand or Australia for processing.

But it also has a GeneXpert machine which reads Cepheid tests, which are being rapidly developed to test for COVID-19.

Asked whether there is potential for the nation’s testing capacity to increase using Cepheid tests, Leausa said other countries are taking first priority as the testing cartridges are rolled out internationally. 

He said so far just 19,000 cartridges have been delivered to the Pacific Islands to be shared among all the countries in the region. 

 “Samoa is not the only country after these cartridges,” he said. 

“Looking from what is happening in Europe, the United States, Australia, these are very populated countries with millions of people.”

A further 96,000 cartridges are being sent to the Pacific courtesy of the Pacific Community, the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, the World Health Organisation and the Pacific Island Health Officers Association. 

After finding managing fortnightly repatriation flights overwhelming Samoa has reduced incoming flights from New Zealand to once every three weeks, with the next incoming flight scheduled for August 28.

But Cabinet is expected to decide on whether to go ahead with this flight after evidence surfaced of community transmission of COVID—19 in New Zealand.

There are currently 49 cases of COVID-19 in the community in New Zealand and 20 cases from the border, with nearly all community cases linked to one cluster. 

So far, New Zealand has conducted 571,942 tests altogether during the pandemic. 23,682 tests were processed yesterday, and 63,231 over the previous three days.

In response to the new cluster, the Cook Islands has closed its border to incoming flights and Jetstar has suspended all flights in New Zealand until at least August 26.   

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