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Expert endorses Samoa's coronavirus prevention measures

A public health expert says that Samoa’s coronavirus prevention policies are working well. 

Dr. Colin Tukuitonga served as the Director-General of the Pacific Community between 2014 and 2019 before becoming the first Associate Dean (Pacific) at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

Despite news the country recorded its first positive COVID-19 case prompting a barrage of criticism for the Government’s testing procedures, Dr. Tukuitonga says the country has the proper measures in place. 

Samoa had recorded its first single COVID-19 case on Thursday. (The patient has since tested negative in two subsequent negative cases while the country’s medical officials are awaiting the results of further testing including a sample sent to New Zealand.)

Speaking on the Tagata Pasifika show on Friday, Dr. Tukuitonga said despite the considerable concern, Samoa has taken the right approach to address the issue.

“The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa [Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi] is right to reassure the people. Samoa has in place the very measures [to] have picked up this case,” he said.

“In other words, they have the measures to try and detect the people who present a risk to the community and whilst it’s clearly a concern having just been through the tragic situation with measles, I think Samoa has got in place the measures that are needed to do just this.”

Dr. Tukuitonga said New Zealand has a similar situation with cases of incoming passengers who are infected with the virus arriving at the country’s border. 

He was also asked by the show his thoughts on the next repatriation flight from Los Angeles, scheduled for later this month on 27 November. (Under new Ministry of Health regulations, passengers on the flight will now be placed in quarantine for 21 days, not the usual 14.)

While the public health expert said he was not in a position to comment on the issue, Dr. Tukuitonga said the situation should be looked at quite carefully considering the risks posed by passengers travelling from the United States pose a greater risk.

More than one million people in the state of California alone have tested positive for the virus. 

“I don’t want to comment specifically on that, obviously they are reviewing that, but it’s important to stress again that Samoa has measures in place to protect its people through the restrictions at the border,” he said.

“And also Samoa and all the islands have been getting the support from [the Pacific Community, [the World Health Organisation], [New Zealand’s] Government, and so they’re getting good support, I think.”

Samoa has had two scares twice in the month of November.

Initially 17 frontline workers were taken into quarantine after three positive cases were discovered in American Samoa among seafarers on a cargo vessel that had most recently been docked in Apia for 22 hours.

That was followed by the detection of the positive case being detected amongst the passengers on a repatriation flight from Auckland-Apia on Friday 13 November. 

Dr. Tukuitonga said people’s reaction of uneasiness to the situation, especially after the measles crisis in 2019, was understandable. 

But he said the Samoan Government is doing a good job at it ensuring the risks are minimised as a means of responding to that fear.

“What I am saying is that I am confident knowing in what I know around the region that Samoa has in place… the risks are never going to be zero, it’s the same with us,” he said.

“But it’s to try and minimise the risks as far as possible.”

Dr. Tukuitonga is a General Practitioner by training and undertook his postgraduate studies at the University of California, San Francisco.



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