Repatriation presents COVID-risks

The Ministry of Health says it wants the public to understand that bringing Vanuatu citizens home during a global pandemic creates COVID-19 risks.

The Director for Hospital Services and Curative at the Vila Central Hospital, Dr Sereana Natuman, says repatriation exercises are risky and dangerous.

“We take risks everyday by allowing the repatriation of our citizens,” Dr Natuman says.

“Repatriation presents risks for us, as health workers and frontline workers.”

She says Vanuatu is surrounded by countries where the Delta variant is in the community; and that “the repatriation of our citizens creates the risk of the Delta [variant] entering our country”.

“Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and other countries in this region – we are all surrounded by the COVID-19 Delta variant,” she said.

Dr Natuman says people returning to Vanuatu from work or medical treatments overseas should be aware that they risk bringing COVID-19, including the highly-infectious Delta variant, into Vanuatu.

People returning to Vanuatu from overseas are currently required to get a COVID-19 test 72 hours before their departure.

But, Dr Natuman says, after that test, travellers can still move around freely before their departure, so are able to contract the virus during that period.

“So, if individuals or families are planning to come back to Vanuatu, it is best that they stay home after their 72-hours test, until they are ready to board their repatriation flight,” she stresses.

Dr Natuman says this risky period within 72-hours of departure, is why returning passengers must go into quarantine on arrival in Vanuatu – so they present no risk of transmitting the virus into the community.

Dr Natuman says vaccines protect people against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.

She says people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can still contract the virus but will either show no symptoms and signs of COVID-19 at all or may show mild signs and symptoms like a sore throat.

She says the two positive cases currently in isolation at the Vila Central Hospital were both fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

She says one person had a sore throat that was relatively mild and cleared up quickly and the other person who was elderly showed no signs or symptoms.

She says if the elderly person had not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the outcome could have been severe.

Dr Natuman says in some other countries, a person who tests positive for COVID-19 but shows no signs and symptoms of COVID, is released from quarantine within ten days.

“That cannot happen here because we are not ready [to manage serious outbreaks],” she said.

“The reason we move cases, such as these current two, to the isolation ward is not because they are sick but because we are able to isolate them further for longer and observe them.

“So far everything is good [with these two patients] and we will continue to observe them and make tests to ensure their infectious period has ended before they are released from quarantine.”

She says everyone in Vanuatu has a role to play in protecting the country and the way to do this is by getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It will protect you and reduce your chances of spreading the virus to another person,” she said.

Dr Natuman says, Vanuatu’s current COVID-19 protocols for travellers returning from abroad – including the 14-day mandatory quarantine on arrival – is still effective and safe.

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