Efate island restricted following COVID-19 case

Travel in and out of Vanuatu’s Efate Island, the nation’s most populated island, has been restricted.

The travel restriction is in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 following a Ni-Vanuatu man travelling from the United States via Auckland being confirmed as the country’s first COVID positive case on his arrival in Port Vila.

The Vanuatu COVID-19 Advisory Committee Spokesperson, Len Tarivonda, says the National Disaster Committee and the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office issued the Efate travel ban on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers.

Mr Tarivonda says the travel ban means no one – men, women or children – is allowed to travel in or out of Efate Island by plane or ship.

“As the Public Health Director, I want to assure the public that the positive case of COVID-19, who is in border quarantine, is a case that the Ministry of Health can handle because he is in a managed area,” Mr Tarivonda said.

He says public health risk from this first case is low.

Mr Tarivonda says people should not panic but must continue to practice the good public hygiene measures that the Ministry of Health has been promoting since March.

He says the public hygiene practices the Ministry of Health has put in place are physical distancing and thorough handwashing.

Prime Minister Bob Loughman said in Parliament this week that the movement of cargo ships and aircraft into Vanuatu will continue despite the COVID case and schools will continue as normal.

But, he says the Council of Ministers has recommended a closure of repatriation flights that were returning Vanuatu nationals home from overseas until further notice.

The Office of the Maritime Regulator in Port Vila has ordered all vessel owners to comply with the Government’s Efate travel ban.

Technical head of the Maritime Office, Kembro Mandersen, says ship owners are now aware they are allowed to transport only cargo and no passengers in and out of Efate Island.

Mr Mandersen asked all shipowners to comply with the directive and warned that they will face penalties if they break the ban.

He says vessels which are on their route back to Port Vila, will have to wait for advice or directives from the National Disaster Management Office on whether they can dock at Efate’s Port Vila Harbour or not.

He says the National Disaster Management Office has advised the vessel MV Princess Marie that its passengers can disembark in Port Vila on Thursday morning.

Mr Mandersen says other vessels that are still in Santo Island in the north, have been advised to only carry cargo not passengers to Efate.

In the wake of the COVID case, Air Vanuatu has stopped all its domestic passenger flights and is currently working on its cargo flight schedule.

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