COVID strain tests expected next week

Samoa’s first positive COVID-19 case remains in isolation while overseas analysis is being conducted to determine which variant of the virus he is infected with, the National Emergency Operations Centre says.

The 16-year-old boy continues to display no symptoms of the disease while in isolation at the national hospital, health authorities said.

A sample was sent to New Zealand last Friday for genome sequencing to determine the variant of the virus he has been infected wit, Director-General of Health Leausa Dr. Take Naseri said on Wednesday. Samoa is still waiting for results and expects them as early as next week, the health chief said. 

The 16-year-old arrived in Samoa from California via New Zealand earlier this month has been in the hospital on his own since Friday 12 February, having tested positive for COVID-19 at Faleolo International Airport that day.

Since then, he has tested positive again but his viral count (or a measure of the intensity of his infection) drops with each test, Leausa said on Wednesday. 

His mother who travelled with him has only tested negative, as have the other 160 passengers who arrived on the same flight. She is still in quarantine, not in the hospital as previously reported by Government newspaper Savali, N.E.O.C. Interim Chair Agafili Shem Leo said.

Agafili said Ministry of Health Mental Health Unit director Dr. George Tuitama has been leading a social welfare response programme visiting people in quarantine (at a distance), including the boy in the hospital.

The group have all been tested three times now, and only the 16-year-old has tested positive, Leausa said.

All passengers will be tested again on Thursday 25 February, and once more next week before their scheduled release from their three-week quarantine on Friday 05 March. 

Also on the flight were five people who are confirmed historical positive cases, meaning they have had COVID-19 in the past, recovered and are no longer infectious. Two people were false positives, which the test can produce sometimes.

Meanwhile, several more flights have been scheduled for March, to bring medical treatment patients back from India via Fiji, among others. 

The next flight is a new addition to the schedule. On Monday 01 March, Fiji Airways will bring around 50 people from Los Angeles via Nadi to Samoa. 

Passengers are largely travelling from Hawaii. Among them are families with children and returning missionaries who had to rebook earlier flights. 

After that, on Friday 05 March the next Auckland flight will arrive. It is meant to be at capacity (300 passengers) and will include scholarship students from both New Zealand and Australia. 

N.E.O.C. Interim Chair Agafili Shem Leo said with several flights returning half empty, the Government may look to reduce the frequency of flights.

He said too many booked travellers are changing their minds over whether and when to travel. He urged them to be more transparent with their needs and believes overseas Governments will run out of patients for people who repeatedly extend their visas rather than return to Samoa. 

When Air New Zealand calls customers to confirm their flights to Samoa, some are allegedly saying they changed their minds, Agafili said. The Samoa Observer has not independently verified this claim.

He also confirmed the seasonal worker who died just before his flight home is undergoing a post-mortem in New Zealand before he will be brought home.

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