Samoa has confirmed its first coronavirus case – a case imported from Australia – after nearly 11 months of keeping Covid off its shores.
The positive case was found in a 70-year-old Samoan citizen who traveled to Apia from Melbourne, landing in the capital on a return flight on 13 November.
“We confirm that there is a positive case after we tested all 274 quarantined passengers yesterday, with a view to the end of their quarantine period tomorrow,” the chief executive of the Samoa health ministry said at a press conference on Friday. Dr. Leausa Take Naseri.
Earlier in the week, there had been significant confusion over whether Samoa had recorded a case of Covid-19.
A sailor who had been on the same flight back to Samoa initially tested positive, but later this was inconclusive.
“The sailor on his left nostril tested positive and the one on his right tested negative,” Samoa Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi said on television.
Naseri said the 70-year-old positive case and his wife were transferred to a dedicated Covid-19 isolation ward at Tupua Tamasese Meaole II hospital.
“His wife tested negative. He has an underlying condition, but right now he has no symptoms, fever, cough and shows no symptoms like pneumonia and flu.
Naseri said that medical staff, hotel employees and airport operators have been placed on high alert for potential interactions with passengers currently in quarantine.
Samoa has now moved to alarm level 1 on its national risk matrix, with the public invited to practice social distancing and wear face masks.
After months of expelling the virus from the coast of the archipelago, the confirmation of a positive case has generated a sense of unease, if not panic, in the Samoan capital. Security guards outside government buildings ask people to wear masks and dispense hand sanitizers – the lifestyle has changed around the world for months now, but it’s new to Samoans.
Like many Pacific nations, Samoa quickly closed its borders as the pandemic began to spread, using its geographic isolation to keep the virus out.
Many Pacific nations have fragile public health systems and populations with significant levels of comorbidities. Fears remain that an uncontrolled outbreak could quickly overwhelm any medical response.
But isolation has devastated Pacific economies, leading to calls from business leaders, particularly in tourism-dependent countries, to ease restrictions. Governments too have been torn between the imperative to repatriate thousands of citizens stranded abroad and keeping their islands virus-free.
Siligatusa Pa’ipa’i Fatialofa, mayor of the village of Tanugamanono on the outskirts of Apia and security officer at the airport, said he was surprised by the news of a positive case in Samoa.
“I am very worried and worried about my village. I just want to go home to my wife and children. I will urge my village to comply with the public health warnings and rules established by our government, in order to remain safe. “