Bangkok Desk, Oct 4 (efe-epa).- The Solomon Islands has announced its first case of COVID-19 in a student who recently arrived on a repatriation flight from the Philippines.
The Solomons was one of the only COVID-free countries left, alongside Pacific Island nations and territories such as Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
“It pains me to say we have lost our COVID-19-free status despite our collective efforts to prevent the pandemic from entering our country,” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in a televised address Saturday.
He said it was a “disappointing setback to extraordinary efforts” made to protect the country.
“While we have been working to prevent the virus from reaching our shores, it is now with us,” he added.
The student, who was asymptomatic, had been in quarantine in Manila and tested negative three times before he boarded the flight.
On arrival in the Solomons, he underwent mandatory testing and the result came back positive, with results of a second test pending.
He is now in quarantine at a hospital with two other close contacts whose first tests were inconclusive, and who are now also awaiting results of fresh tests.
“The government is well aware of the risks posed by repatriating our students from the Philippines. We are also aware that keeping our children in the Philippines exposes them to even higher risk,” Sogavare said.
“As a responsible government, we cannot close our eyes to the plight of our children and bringing them home was the humane thing to do.”
Sogavare said that government measures to isolate, contain and eliminate the virus were underway, along with contact tracing and testing of frontline staff.
On Sunday, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services Pauline McNeil said that the ministry is looking into how the student had tested negative three times before boarding the flight.
“My health officers are working hard to obtain detailed information which also includes the whereabouts of the patients in the last one or two days prior to boarding the flight in the Philippines, so we can address and thus prevent any further importation of COVID-19,” she said, according to the ministry.
In late September, 18 Solomon Islands students had tested positive in the Philippines. They will need to test negative to be allowed to board a repatriation flight. However, with the arrival of the first case in the country, Sogavare said repatriation flights had been suspended for review.
The Philippines had also been notified of the case.
“Similarly to our students who tested positive for COVID-19 in the Philippines, we have also informed the parents of the first COVID-19 case in country although contacting parents and guardians of the Philippine cases was a bit of a challenge due to lack of contacts,” McNeil added Sunday.
The Solomon Islands had planned to repatriate more than 400 of its students stuck in the Philippines since it closed its borders in March.
The Philippines has recorded nearly 320,000 cases of COVID-19, including over 5,600 deaths. Manila remains on lockdown, set to be of the longest duration in the world at seven-and-a-half months. EFE-EPA