Govt’s slow response contradicts enforcement of S.O.E orders

For eight long months, even without a case of the coronavirus, the Government has been persistent in its efforts to prepare Samoa for the worst-case scenario. Since the State of Emergency was approved by the Head of State and declared by Cabinet, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his administration have been quite serious in enforcing the orders across the nation despite the feeling that most of them are unnecessary.

We cannot fault them for being overcautious. With the coronavirus coming so soon after the tragic consequences of the measles crisis last year, it would be completely irresponsible for the leaders of this nation to display a blasé attitude to the threat of the coronavirus.

Besides looking at how the coronavirus pandemic has turned things upside down the world over, Samoa cannot afford to be casual about its response. As of yesterday, 1.27 million people have died from 51.2 million cases worldwide.  The spread of the deadly virus in countries near Samoa is alarming with Vanuatu yesterday reporting their first case. This makes Samoa so far one of only a few countries without the virus so far.

While the strict restrictions have been frustrating, in some ways that has been the price paid in what the Government views as a way to prepare the nation and keep Samoa coronavirus free. As a result of the Government’s S.O.E., jobs have been lost, businesses have been crippled, education for thousands of students have been affected with its impact stretching far more than we can imagine.

In this country today, after eight months of lockdown, restaurants are still being forced to close at 10pm. Hundreds of people have been fined for breaching the rules. Some public gatherings are still being restricted to no more than 100 people.

On Sundays, members of the public can’t even get fuel or fix a punctured tyre, shops and market places are subjected to challenging opening and closing hours. Out there in the villages, people can’t even swim on a Sunday. Alcohol sale is banned at licensed hotels and bars.

The people of Savai’i who want to come to Upolu on Sunday have to try and cram into the 6am interisland ferry, which is a disaster waiting to happen, because all Sunday voyages have been stopped. We can go on and on about these strict restrictions but the point is that, the Government has pretty much found a way to ensure all spheres of life are affected one way or another.

Now whether we agree with it or not, that’s not the point. In erring on the side of caution, the over the top reaction is probably better than being casual and careless about such a deadly matter.

But this is where we find the Government’s attitude contradictory. After subjecting members of the public with all those restrictions, the manner in which they reacted, at least publically, to a container ship carrying three sailors infected with the coronavirus, which was in Samoa for nearly a day, was extremely poor.

They were not only late in informing members of the public about what was happening, when they finally issued a statement 22 hours after they were informed about the threat, the response was full of holes.

It is impossible to blame members of the public for panicking. How can people not panic? In times like this, the nation deserves an assuring presence, someone to front up and tell them that it’s going to be okay. The Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, was informed about the development at 9.30pm on Monday night.

Given the seriousness of the matter, did they not think that it was important to inform members of the public right away? Where was the Minister of Health? Why didn’t she take the initiative? What about Prime Minister Tuilaepa who spends hours on local TV and radio stations, often telling myths and legends? Why didn’t he address the nation?

Having three sailors who had the coronavirus come through Samoa should not be dismissed, downplayed and buried. It was probably the closest this deadly virus has come to Samoa, which makes it a matter of national security deserving urgent attention.

It’s important to note that we are not out of the woods yet. During a press conference on Wednesday, we were told that 17 people are now being quarantined as part of the Government’s response. We do hope that they pull through and are cleared.

In the meantime, there is a lot to be said about urgency and the Government getting its priorities right. The entire S.O.E. was designed to protect the people of this country from this deadly virus. Rightly or wrongly, we cannot fault the intentions.

But the Government’s reaction to what unfolded on Monday night neither inspires confidence in their ability to protect our people when push comes to shove nor their commitment to being transparent and accountable.

If people, businesses and organisations are being fined for breaching S.O.E orders, what benchmarks should be used to hold Government officials to account? We acknowledge that it is not an easy job, but that is what they are there for.

Let’s not so easily forget the lessons from the measles crisis, which ironically was the last time they told the people of this country not to panic.

Stay safe Samoa, God bless!











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