No evidence behind coronavirus death rumours: Ministry

The Ministry of Health says there is no evidence to support a rumour spreading online that a recently repatriated seasonal worker died from the coronavirus on Saturday but his death will be subject to an investigation by a coroner.

In a statement issued late on Sunday night, the Government Press Secretariat rejected online rumours claiming the man, who collapsed suddenly and was rushed to hospital, had been known to have died of the coronavirus, noting that he had tested negative for the disease and been released from a quarantine facility more than two weeks ago.

But the man's official cause of death will still be investigated by a coroner, the Ministry confirmed. 

"The official cause of death [of a] male reported Saturday 15th August 2020 at the Leulumoega District Hospital is subject to an official Coroner’s Report contrary to claims posted on Social Media that the COVID19 virus is the confirmed cause of death," the statement said.

The man collapsed at his home and was rushed to hospital when he was proclaimed Dead on Arrival. But according to the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) his medical records showed no signs of a history of severe medical conditions or ill-health. His family also stated that he had appeared fit and healthy since his release from a quarantine facility, keeping up with his daily routines. 

"[The deceased] had completed his 14 day mandatory quarantine requirement on 31st July 2020 after he was tested negative for COVID 19 before he was allowed to go home," the statement read. 

"For the public’s information, as prescribed by the COVID-19 Response Plan implemented by [the M.O.H.], it is compulsory for all repatriated residents to be tested negative after their Quarantine Period before they are released."

Local tests are in addition to a mandatory medical requirement for incoming passengers to board a flight home from New Zealand. Passengers must produce a negative COVID-19 test issued within three days of their departure for Samoa. 

But the Ministry said that as part of its COVID-19 response plan it would be taking all necessary precautions relating to the man's death given his recent arrival from overseas. 

"[The M.O.H.] would like to reassure the public that they will be duly informed on any developments," the statement said. 

Samoa has so far been one of only nine states in the world to be free from COVID-19.

A source inside the Leulumoega District Hospital confirmed a recently deceased man had been brought to the hospital on Saturday and that his death was not caused by COVID-19.

A Facebook post circulated over the weekend suggested a man who died over the weekend was a seasonal worker who, following quarantine in Poutasi on return from New Zealand, contracted COVID-19 which caused his death and was taken to Leulumoega District Hospital.

On Sunday the Falealili Seasonal Workers Programme Director, Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale, confirmed with his programme secretary that after being released from quarantine in early August, all 117 workers returned a negative COVID-19 test.

The Facebook post in question was shared by the Taeao Manuia Facebook page, and has since been shared nearly 900 times by other users, some of which are refuting the claims in the post.

In New Zealand, as the country works to control a new cluster of community transmitted cases of the virus, the Ministry of Health is calling for caution when it comes to news and information about COVID-19.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins is begging New Zealanders not to share unverified information in the wake of a similarly viral and untrue story erupting in New Zealand, and thanked journalists for working to verify stories before publishing them.

A post that claimed a person contracted the virus after sneaking into a quarantine facility, Mr. Hipkins said: “Not only was it harmful and dangerous, it was totally and utterly wrong. I want to say this again: it did not happen. It was fully investigated and that investigation concluded that it was completely false.

“At a time when we're fighting a pandemic and we need all hands on deck to beat it down, this is deliberately designed to create panic, fear and confusion,” he said.

“We want everyone to accept some personal responsibility for the information they are out there sharing.”. 

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