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In the news: Samoa declares emergency as suspected coronavirus case emerges

It’s the second health emergency in six months.

Apia, the capital of Samoa
Apia, the capital of Samoa. Samoa declared a state of emergency on 20 March. The measures include restricting flights in and out of the island nation to four a week. (Phil Norton/Flickr)

The Pacific Island nation of Samoa has shut its borders and declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The order, which takes effect 21 March, comes days after the country announced it is investigating its first suspected coronavirus case – a patient with flu-like symptoms who had arrived from New Zealand.

Samoa is only months removed from a measles outbreak that killed dozens and infected some two percent of the population.

Under the emergency order, international travellers will be barred from entering the country. Arriving citizens and residents must show they’ve tested negative for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. The government also shuttered schools and banned gatherings of more than five people.

The coronavirus pandemic has spread to at least 160 countries and territories and sickened more than 230,000 people since erupting in China in late December.

Read more → Mapped: Where the coronavirus has spread

Small island nations like Samoa are seen as particularly unprepared for epidemics due to vast distances and poor infrastructure. And with global resources already stretched, it’ll be even harder to mobilise aid to remote countries, should it become necessary.

Even testing for the coronavirus is more complicated: Samoa’s suspected sample has been sent more than 4,000 kilometres away to Australia, where the turnaround time is three to five days. 

Fiji, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Guam, and Hawaii have recorded confirmed coronavirus cases, among the small island countries, territories, and states that comprise the vast and diverse Pacific. Earlier this month, a suspected case in Palau – a visiting American health worker – came back negative following testing an ocean away in Taiwan.

While Samoa waits for the results of its first coronavirus test, another island country – Haiti – received some bad news. The Caribbean nation, which struggles with a battered health system, political unrest, and food insecurity, reported its first two COVID-19 cases this week.

- Irwin Loy

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