Alert level raised after positive COVID-19 test

Samoa’s COVID-19 official alert level has been raised as patient suspected to be potentially infected with the virus who came to Samoa on last Friday’s repatriation flight remains under close observation at the national hospital. 

The Director-General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, confirmed that authorities are currently analysing the patient’s medical symptoms  and test results carefully after he returned a positive test on Wednesday.

But the Director-General also issued a call for calm at a National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.) press conference on Thursday, noting the sailor had tested negative to the virus before boarding last Friday’s incoming flight.

The health chief told the media that the 23-year-old sailor arrived in Samoa via Italy and is one of the 217 sailors who landed in the country on a repatriation flight last week.

Leausa said it was not apparent that the patient had an active case of the virus, instead of a “historical” or non-contagious type as had been previously detected on two passengers on repatriation flights last year. 

He said the young man might have been in contact with someone who was infected with the virus while he was still overseas.

“The blood test presented by this young man shows that he might have been exposed to someone who was previously infected with the disease, but it has been a while back,” he said.

“This sort of test doesn’t show the type of antibody that would instantly react once you are infected and would be the first to present themselves, instead, it shows [higher levels of] an antibody, a delayed response of the body.”

The patient’s levels of IgG (immunoglobulin G) - the antibody produced when the immune system first encounters a virus - were very low, the Director-General said. 

Instead, their levels of IgM (immunoglobulin M) - the antibody detected when still infected, or even after recovered from a COVID-19 infection - were high. 

“And whatever is left, it will all be diminished by the antibodies of the body. All his previous tests were negative which allowed him to come but he was positive last night,” added Leausa.

“And after deliberations with our team, we saw that this is very similar to our historical cases that were detected before.”

He said the public had no cause for concern given there was no point of contact with the sailor and the public upon his arrival.

Friday’s flight passengers are to undergo quarantine in managed isolation sites for 21 days, a week more than the normal 14 day isolation period enforced in the past.

“He is not showing any symptoms at all,” Leausa said.

Remember there was not a single time any of these passengers were able to get out and possibly meet families. They were put in isolation as soon as they arrived.”

“And he is still in isolation. But he was taken to isolation in the hospital as soon as his test came back positive on Wednesday morning.

“And right now he has no symptoms. He is walking around like nothing is happening and so all we are doing now is to keep him isolated and closely monitored.”

He said the sailor’s test confirms that the viral count is “very low” and “close to disappearing”.

Meanwhile, the Interim Chair of the National Emergency Operation Centre, Agafili Shem Leo also announced that Samoa is on Alert Level 1 for COVID-19. 

The level is raised when Samoa has between one to six cases in managed isolation, which is a low risk situation for the country.

State of emergency restrictions remain in force, he said, as people are encouraged to keep hands clean and wear masks in public places.



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