Opposition slams Government's quarantine response

Opposition parties have criticised the Government for its slow response to news that a ship carrying three COVID-19 infected sailors had docked in Samoan waters. 

The Fesco Askold cargo ship left Apia for Pago Pago after 22-hours in dock at Matautu.

There it was discovered by health officials in the American territory that three sailors had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Samoan Government was informed of the news about 9.30pm on Monday night in a communication to the Ministry of Health’s Director-General Leausa Dr. Take Naseri.

The National Emergency Operation Centre on Tuesday evening, nearly 22 hours later, confirmed 17 people involved in clearing cargo from the ship would be put into controlled quarantine. 

The leader of the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party, Laauli Leuatea Polataivao Schmidt, criticised the Government for what he said was an unacceptably slow response. 

The Government’s medical equipment to test for COVID-19 is not adequate and too slow, La’auli added in a phone interview on Thursday. 

With the $36 million the Government has received in grants to prepare its COVID-19 response, Samoa should have the latest technology to test for the disease on hand, he said. 

Family members of the 17 people in quarantine should have also been placed in quarantine, Laauli added.  

“I am very concerned right now. The families of those who have been quarantined should have also been placed in quarantine,” the F.A.S.T. founder said.

“Not only the people that went on the ship and worked at the ship but they should have also quarantined their families, the people who came into contact with the workers.

“But it is not the case. It was only the workers. So I am not sure about our safety at this time. Let’s wait and see and let’s hope the tests all come out negative.” 

The equipment currently being used by the Health Ministry “is not qualified,” Laauli added.

“How come? [American Samoa] has the latest and updated tools compared to us. We have to wait five days […] how long? Our tests are not up to par. We have to wait for a few days. But look at Tutuila, they will just test and get the results right away,” he said.

“The moment the ship arrived they (American Samoa) tested and they got the results straight away. Our Health Ministry should have done the same. 

“We should have these kinds of powerful machines too. But not at this stage. We have to wait, four, five, seven days. So for safety, there needs to be more enforcement by health.”

When the Fesco Askold stopped in Samoa La’auli said there were no tests conducted.

“There were no tests. The ship left Samoa and we did not know the virus was on the ship. There were sick people on the ship. That is the worry. We should have caught it here before the boat left. We don’t want it to end up the way things happened with the measles,” he said.

“I implore the Ministry of Health to please do their jobs, do what they are supposed to do.”

La’auli also criticised the information disseminated by the Government, saying it was not the same as actual events, he said. 

“The information they have shared is not the same as what happened. They came through us and we didn’t pick it up and that’s the worst part. The risk is now the people who went on board and those who worked at the ship,” Laauli said.

“I hope and pray that their tests come back negative and the Government needs to bring the latest equipment to test here. We have $36 million already. We have that. We have the funding; there is a lot of money.”

To gather information on the Fesco ship, La’auli contacted an official on the COVID-19 task force in American Samoa.

“I was surprised because I did some research with Pago and I found it was true, there were three people. I also founded out that no tests were conducted in Samoa. I made an announcement for people to be patient because we needed to get the right information,” Laauli said.

“When I found out that it was true, there are three cases from Pago, there I realised the information the country is receiving is not correct. But I did say not to panic and to let things cool down so we could get the right information because everybody was unsure. I was expecting from the government, an announcement to tell us straight what the situation was. “

The Health Ministry, he said, must “upgrade” its enforcement and equipment so test results can be obtained right away.

The N.E.O.C. by contrast says it followed proper procedure which meant that “watertight” controls were in place. All those workers who boarded the vessel were in full protective equipment, the Centre said. 

“These procedures were strictly followed in the assessment of Fesco Askold,” a statement from the Centre said. 

“The area on the wharf where the ship is docked is sealed off and the Police guard is always on site to make sure that no one of the crew members comes on land. 

“These procedures were strictly followed in the assessment of Fesco Askold. All frontline officials were fully protected with personal protection equipment (P.P.E.), masks, and gloves in the performance of their prescribed duties at the wharf.  Containers offloaded from this ship were sterilised.”

The leader of the Sovereign Independent Samoa (S.I.S.) Political Party, Fesola’i Logo Tepa-Toloa, said she did not approve of the way the Fesco Askold situation was handled.

She urged the Health Director-General Leausa  to do his job and do it well.

"If he does not want to do his job, then he should give it to someone who will get it done," said Fesola'i.

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