No coronavirus cases from ship scare: N.E.O.C.

No one has tested positive for COVID-19, or showing symptoms of the virus after Samoa’s virus scare, the National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.). confirmed on Monday.

Interim N.E.O.C. Chair, Agafili Shem Leo, and Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, confirmed that 19 people were tested for COVID-19 on Friday 13 November and their results were negative. 

They confirmed two additional people were put into quarantine (than those announced last Tuesday) as a precaution, both Government staff and stevedoring crew members. Leausa said they were “planners.”

On Monday night the Ministry of Health learned from American Samoa’s Department of Health that three crew members on the container ship the Fesco Askold tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which had been in Samoan waters for 22 hours on the weekend.

On Tuesday 7:30pm N.E.O.C. released a full statement with the details of the incident, said no more than five people who boarded the ship in full protective gear have been moved into quarantine, and that Samoa remained COVID-19 free.

Leausa said no part of this incident has caused the N.E.O.C. or the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) to review or amend its policies around border control at the port, where as a matter of policy container ship crew not disembarking are not tested for the virus.

“No, we have not changed anything,” he said. “The only thing we are doing is that we have added more people to help out at the wharf so that there’s no chance anyone is dozing off.”

Previously Leausa has said Samoa does not have enough tests to use where they deem it unnecessary. On Monday he said there are close to 4000 test kits left.

“We have received more test [kits], 60 from the World Health Organisation last week, so we have about 4000,” he said.

To date, neither the crew nor contacts have either tested positive or are showing symptoms of the virus, suggesting Samoa has avoided this close shave with the pandemic.

Fesco Askold finally entered the wharf in American Samoa on Friday 13 (local time) and began unloading containers. The process will take at least a week as no local stevedoring crew will be helping unload and load containers.

Director General of Health Motusa Tuileama Nua told K.H.J. News he was concerned that if the ship left without unloading cargo and taking tuna exports to mainland America, the island could have faced economic problems.

Speaking to the media and the people of Samoa, Agafili laid out more details, proactively releasing information about the national COVID-10 prevention efforts.

He confirmed the last flights from New Zealand for the year will be on Friday 27 November, Friday 04 December and Friday 07 December.

A tentatively scheduled flight for December on the 11th was brought forward to the 7th to allow citizens to finish quarantine ahead of the holiday season. N.E.O.C. is also considering chartering a flight from Fiji on Monday 07 November.

He said the Government will be releasing information about more flights for 2021 in the future, with a tentative look at scheduling more flights towards the end of January. 

For now those flights will be coming from New Zealand.   

Agafili and Leausa also released information about the last two repatriation flights: how many people had been quarantined, tested, and released.

According to Agafili, all 294 passengers from the Friday 30 October flight returned negative tests for the coronavirus and were released from quarantine on Friday 13, just in time for 270 adults and four children to move in, of which 18 were sailors.

An additional 18 passengers were denied entry to the Friday 13 repatriation flight because they did not meet the travel advisory requirements.

Exactly what requirements those 18 passengers did not meet was not specified.

“We had explained to them why and they also knew,” Agafili said, reminding people that the travel advisories have been public for a long time.

He wants people to come prepared, and not assume they will be allowed on the plane just because they arrived at the airport.

“We will not let them come through only because they are at the airport already,” he said.

The N.E.O.C. also highlighted that they are prioritising elderly people when they approve the flight lists for repatriations flights.

“We have noticed an increased number of the elderly being brought back into the country, those brought in wheelchairs. In the last two flights, the number returning is not below 20,” Agafili said.

Asked how staff associated with the repatriation flights like bus drivers, quarantine site staff and health workers are treated to avoid any potential spread, Leausa said it depends on the risk involving each individuals’ work.

“If you shook the hand of an arrival, you have a large exposure; if not, for example, just as a driver while wearing P.P.E.s (personal protective equipment) and no contact, then you just need to remove the P.P.E. and head home,” said Leausa.

Leausa said while there are protocols in place, the actions taken during the protocols may vary depending on whether it is by air or sea.

“Like I said, the airplanes have their own risks. There are variations; it does not stick to one thing; it is performed to accommodate everyone,” he said.

“For example, if we stick by our protocols while we continue to bring in the elderly, we will have to change our approach. We cannot say, take them back. So all these [actions] depend on when the people arrive.

“There are always people who oversee these changes; because the changes are made in a way that it does not compromise the safety of staff, the passengers and the country.”

Last Friday marked the 15th repatriation flight, bringing the total number of Samoans returned home this year to 2,976.

*Translation by Soli Wilson


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