OPPOSITION leader Matthew Wale says he’s alarmed by the lack of government action to date in protecting the country from the coronavirus.
Wale said incoming passengers and airport workers have confirmed that up to Sunday 26th January 2020 there have been no active steps taken by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with other agencies, contrary to their public statements.
“The coronavirus spreads from human to human and spreads even when infected persons show no outward symptoms,” Wale said.
“This makes the task of containing its spread particularly difficult,” he added.
Wale called on the Ministry of Health to urgently seek guidance from the WHO and enter into collaboration with agencies tasked with border protection to do all they can to protect the public.
“This is a very serious public health threat, made even more urgent by the lack of domestic capacity in our healthcare system to care for any infected persons and limit any spread in the country.
“It is far better to totally avoid getting any cases in Solomon Islands in the first instance.
“Marshall Islands has imposed a blanket ban on travelers from China to the country,” the Opposition Leader stressed.
He urged the government to take a similar approach until the virus is brought under control.
Whilst attention is placed on arrivals by air, Wale also urged the government to also be vigilant with seaborne arrivals.
“This country has suffered major biosecurity breaches from log ships and barges that have brought pests into the country.
“They are a particularly high risk group that must be closely monitored to ensure they comply with our laws and any measures to protect the country from the Wuhan coronavirus.
“The government ought to consider imposing penalties on any carrier, airline, ship-owner, charterer, etc., who fail to comply with the protective measures.”
He adds that the government must show it is serious about this threat to public health.
“So far, beyond words, the public is questioning the lack of action by the government and the lack of urgency in its decision-making on this matter,” the opposition leader further stated.
Over the weekend, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) said it is taking proactive actions to prevent possible importation of the disease.
It said it has strengthened measures at the airport and ports, increased surveillance of influenza like-illness in the country and at points of entry and information for travelers entering and leaving the country, among other measures.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry Pauline McNeil said considering a number of nearby countries, including Australia, have already recorded suspected cases, the likelihood of importation of this infection in Solomon Islands cannot be ruled out.
“We want to reassure the public we are preparing for that possibility,” McNeil said.
She said the ministry has formed a technical working group including experts from the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
The essential medical supplies to handle cases of 2019-nCoV are being mobilized and development partners are standing by with additional resources should these be needed.
“As a ‘first line’ of defence MHMS is working with immigration and customs officials at ports and airports, training them on how to recognise cases of 2019-nCoV, incoming visitors will be provided with guidance on what to do if they think they have the infection,” McNeil said.
In the meantime, she said the public should remain alert for signs or symptoms of the disease especially if they have visited Wuhan in past 15 days or have come in close contact with someone returning from affected countries and had similar symptoms.