No coronavirus plan yet: Health chief
The Director-General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, has said he does not want to panic Samoa by preparing for a COVID-19 outbreak before it happens.
While Samoa has successfully kept the new coronavirus out using swift border controls, a new cluster in New Zealand with as yet no known source has Auckland back in Alert Level 3 and the rest of the country in Level 2.
Having gone two months without evidence of community transmission, in July the New Zealand Government publicised its plans for how it would respond to a new outbreak, detailing how localised lockdowns would happen and encouraged people to continue downloading, and using, its contact tracing app.
It has had to use that resurgence plan this month.
Samoa will not be preparing for widespread contact tracing mechanisms or lockdown changes anytime soon Leausa said, but is watching developments in New Zealand closely.
“[The National Emergency Operations Centre] has been meeting since we got this news and we are working hard on it but we don’t want to create unnecessary panic to our people,” he said.
“We are noting the developments in Auckland with a lot of concern.”
Leausa was addressing the media in the wake of a recently repatriated man’s death on the weekend, which sparked social media driven rumours about COVID-19 entering Samoa.
While offering reassurances that the man did not die of COVID-19 the Director General urged people not to share misinformation online.
Asked for a message to people who may be sharing misinformation out of fear, Leasusa dismissed the suggestion.
“I don’t think they are scared, I think people want to be the first to break the news, they are wannabe journalists,” he said.
People should be well-informed about COVID-19 by now, as it is a global pandemic and “the most publicised disease,” he continued.
“[If] they are scared, then listen to what we are telling them, we are going to reassure them. This is all over the internet, the whole world is facing this. There is a lot of information.”
Meanwhile, Leausa said the Ministry of Health continues to follow a media and communications plan which includes televised and radio broadcast programming on the virus.
Asked whether Samoa should expect to begin practicing contact tracing methods like keeping travel and contact diaries, he said the N.E.O.C. is talking about a Pacific-wide mobile phone app for this purpose.
“We have sort of started doing [contact tracing] informally, that is why we started putting people in groups of ten [for quarantine] so it would be easier to contact trace ten rather than 80 or 100,” he said, with regards to repatriated citizens.”
“We are still COVID-19 free and I don’t think anyone will respond. It has become a stigmatised disease, people are reacting to COVID unnecessarily and they begin to panic.
“We have discussed with the New Zealand Government, we suggested if we could have a common app where we can trace not only Samoa and New Zealand but Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji, because there is a lot of traffic.
“These are the dialogues we have with the Ministry of Health in New Zealand and other small islands.
New Zealand is still investigating the source of its new outbreak using genomic sequencing. It had followed its investigations all the way to a cold storage facility called Americold in Mt. Wellington and is testing samples from a related site in Australia.
While the Managing Director of Americold International Richard Winnall said the Melbourne store has not shipped to New Zealand in “months and months,” New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield is going ahead with testing.
He told reporters on Tuesday that genome testing from the Mt. Wellington facility was being processed today and that he has connected with his Australian counterparts investigating samples from the Melbourne site and staff.
Meanwhile, Samoa remains in a state of emergency, which is set to expire in less than two weeks. Under the state of emergency, several restrictions are in place over gatherings, commerce and activities, not all of which have been directly linked to COVID-19 prevention measures.