Covid-19 Infected Crew Were Not Tested in Apia

NEOC representatives, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, NEOC Interim Chairman Agafili Shem Leo and the Samoa Ports Authority CEO, So’oalo Kuresa So’oalo in a press conference this morning.

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA -11 NOVEMBER 2020: The 3 Covid-19 positive cases on-board the Fesco Askold container vessel who were detected in American Samoa, were not tested when the vessel docked at the Matautu port in Apia on Saturday 7 November.

The Director General of Health, Leausa Dr.Take Naseri confirmed this at a National Emergency Operational Centre press conference this morning and the reasons why.

“There is no reason to test them because they are here to do a drop-off, and we only test if they are to stay, then they have to go through the quarantine process,” explained Leausa.

He referred to people transiting in New Zealand who do not go through the process of testing in that country because they only transit.

“It is the same process applied to travellers coming into Samoa,” he explained. “Not all ships are tested when there is no good outcome for us as after testing, they go back to the sea and no one stays here.”

Limited Testing Equipment
The other reason he mentioned is the limited testing equipment available. There are only 3000 plus left to cater for crews on-board ships, repatriation flights, and also the health and ports staff.

When asked about donations from Samoa’s development partners abroad to assist with the Covid-19 response, Leausa said that’s the fund used to buy personal protection equipment (PPE) like masks, and gloves in the performance of the officials prescribed duties at the wharf and the borders.

The vessel was in Tahiti where there had been a number of positive Covid-19 cases and when asked if the Tahitian health authorities informed NEOC or health regarding the positive cases on-board the vessel, Leausa said they relied on the medical documents presented by the crew to the health team.

“The documents say no one was (Covid-19) positive and our team did not notice any indication that any of the crew members were sick when they went on-board to conduct the screening process,” he said.

So the Samoan health authorities rely on the screening results and medical documents provided by the ships’ crew.

“The screening is all clinically done by checking the crew temperature if anyone has a fever, cough or flu,” according to Leausa, “none of the crew had those signs.”

It was suggested that perhaps the risk is the reliance on these documents and screening rather than proper testing.

“That is why they (health and port staff) wore personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize the risk,” said Leausa.

The security gate of the Pago Pago Harbour, American Samoa as the Fresco Askold is anchored outside the harbour for seven days.

Low risk of a COVID-19 case
All throughout the press conference, Leausa assured the media and the country that there is a very low chance of a Covid-19 case in Samoa.

He believed the Ministry of Health and NEOC have done everything by the book to ensure that Samoa stays Covid-19 free by taking extra precautions over 9 months since the State of Emergency was declared.

He said that with so many promotions and Covid-19 awareness programs, there seem to be still a lot of people who do not understand or perhaps praying for a positive case in Samoa.

“Precautionary measures are still being enforced and not to let the issue in American Samoa cause any conflict between us,” he said.

Contact Tracing
Yesterday, the St. Peter Chanel Primary at Moamoa, closed early out of fears that one of the pupils had contact with a family member who may have been exposed as he worked on the wharf while Fresco Askold was in port.

Leausa said they have already identified the parents of the St. Peter Channel primary school pupil over the Principal’s notice to close the school early and called the parents to pick up their children immediately.

He said the parent of the child was never on-board the vessel or anywhere on the wharf and this is a different dimension of confrontation they face.
“I want to reassure the country that if we were not honest in doing our work, Samoa would have had many cases of Covid-19 by now,” he said.

Seventeen in isolation
Seventeen (17) people are currently in isolation since yesterday and include 13 casual workers of the Stevedoring Company, 2 port staff and 2 health officials.

Leausa also confirmed that with the exception of the 2 health workers who conducted screening on the crew, and the 2 port staff, all others did not have any direct contact with the crew.

“We keep a close monitor on the Health and Port staff as they were the ones closest to the crew,” he said.

The Interim Chair of NEOC, Agafili Shem Leo thanked the country for their patience and understanding over the 9 months since the State of Emergency. He acknowledged the importance of information during emergency times, but said they had to make sure all information was collected from the relevant government ministries before they could make a public announcement on the issue.

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