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Bring home Nadi eight, put them in district hospital

On Sunday night early in the week eight Samoan citizens were refused entry at the Faleolo International Airport and sent back to Fiji

The eight Samoans – which included five patients returning from a trip to India for hospital treatment and three of their caregivers – are bonafide Samoan citizens and their ‘deportation’ marks a first in Samoan history.

A story on the saga was published in the Tuesday, February 11, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer. The group were refused entry as they transited through Singapore, which the Samoa Government recently added to the list of ‘high risk’ countries.

Ministry of Health (MOH) Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, suggested that the passengers might not have been aware of the Samoa Government categorising Singapore one of the ‘high risk’ nations.

Under new measures, Samoans and non-Samoans alike will be refused entry without a two-week period of quarantine in a country and medical certification. 

The list was last updated last Friday evening, at a time when their flight may already have departed, Leausa said. 

Japan, Singapore and Thailand were the most recent additions to the list, from which travelers are prevented from arriving in Samoa, without 14 days self-quarantine in a country without the virus before travel.

The strict travel restrictions imposed by the Government, as part of its response to the threat posed by coronavirus (COVID-2019), is understandable. 

But the decision to bar bonafide Samoan citizens from returning home, despite the Government declaring last month that the Faleolo District Hospital is a quarantine site for suspected cases, points to the lack of foresight and rationale on the part of the authorities.

In fact two Samoan sailors were quarantined at the Faleolo District Hospital in late January, after they arrived from China. They were not put on the aircraft and sent back to Nadi, Fiji which was their last port before their arrival.

Six Chinese nationals, who arrived on the same flight with the two Samoan sailors, were deported back to Fiji.

But what makes the case of the two Samoan sailors different from the eight travellers, who are also citizens, but were instead put on the plane back to Fiji? The world knows the coronavirus epicentre is in Wuhan, China and there are also confirmed cases in Singapore. 

The decision by the authorities on Sunday night to send the eight Samoans back to Fiji is mind boggling and raises questions about the responsibilities of a sovereign government to its own citizens. 

With the death toll from coronavirus passing the 1000 mark and infections increasing to over 40,000 worldwide, governments around the world are imposing tougher restrictions at their ports of entry. 

Governments have in the last two weeks organised charter flights to begin evacuating their citizens from Wuhan and China. A number of Samoan citizens, especially students, have benefited from such a evacuation exercise funded by the New Zealand government and are now in quarantine outside Auckland.

And in these times of crisis, none of these governments turned away their citizens at a port of entry, and dispatched them to a neighbouring country to become their responsibility.

Sadly, our Government has done that, and abdicated responsibility over the welfare of its citizens to our friends and neighbour in Fiji.

The Fiji Sun newspaper published an editorial recently that was scathing of the Samoa Government’s decision, when it sent its eight citizens back to Nadi on Sunday night due to fears over coronavirus.

“It’s action means that it has abdicated its responsibility and dumped it on Fiji to screen its citizens,” stated the newspaper’s editorial. “That is unacceptable and tantamounts to dereliction of duty by a sovereign state. Why could it not set up its own quarantine facilities to check its citizens and others whether they are carrying the virus?”

The newspaper does have a point about our Government taking on the responsibilities of looking after the welfare of its people. They are after all part of our family.

And while we are aware of the Government releasing a statement assuring that it is covering their medical expenses while they are quarantined in Nadi, it raises questions as to whether this is an unnecessary expense that taxpayers have to foot. 

The inconsistency in the Government’s policy of declaring the Faleolo District Hospital a quarantine site for suspected coronavirus cases is also laid bare by its decision to “deport” its own citizens.

Let’s do the sensible thing and bring the Nadi eight home to undergo quarantine at the Faleolo District Hospital. At the end of the day they are citizens and have the same rights just like everyone else.

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless.

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