Vanuatu's first coronavirus case, Samoa watching closely

The Government has yet to say if it will make changes to its repatriation flight from Los Angeles in late November, after Vanuatu recorded its first COVID-19 case on Wednesday, through a young man who arrived from the United States.

The case was detected on Tuesday through the routine testing in quarantine five days after arrival. 

Because the man, a ni-Vanuatu citizen, had arrived from the U.S.A., (and travelled through Sydney and Auckland) he had been isolated at the back of the plane and screened separately from other passengers.

The person has been moved to an isolated facility where he will be monitored and his illness treated.

The Guardian’s Dan McGarry reports that Prime Minister Bob Loughman addressed the country on Wednesday around midday, saying: “the country remains safe.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a reminder that we must all work together to address every disaster.”

National Emergency Operations Centre Interim Chair, Agafili Shem Leo, said the N.EO.C. continues to monitor the global pandemic.

“The Committee is closely monitoring COVID 19 cases (both resurging and new) around the world and in the Pacific region including the said case,” he said in an email.

“The Committee constantly meets to discuss these developments and makes relevant recommendations to Cabinet for revised or new measures at the borders in our collective efforts to protect Samoa.”

The COVID-19 case did not display symptoms at the time of testing. The case is considered a border case and not an outbreak.

All people from his flight will remain in quarantine and will be tested on the 10th day of their 14-day quarantine.

The country will ramp up risk communication in response, including information about transmission and prevention measures, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health.

It is moving into a “containment scenario” where there are no restrictions yet on gatherings, workplaces or schools, but handwashing stations will be boosted and maintained and prevention measures are taken.

Vanuatu was one of a handful of countries left globally without recorded cases of COVID-19. 

It has repatriated over 2000 citizens from 21 countries this year, and currently, 164 remain in quarantine from recent arrivals.

In the early months of the pandemic, Vanuatu was struck by Cyclone Harold, which heightened fears around the twin dangers of the virus and climate change.

Cyclone Harold, the second category-five storm to hit Vanuatu in five years, killed 27 people who were swept off a ferry and flattened buildings all over the islands. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes and housed in emergency shelters.

Regionally it is estimated to have cost US$123.5 million (T$320.4 million) worth of damage across the Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga.

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