Advertisement

Two years into the pandemic, Samoa faces its first coronavirus outbreak, heads into lockdown

A hospital in Samoa
The Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in Samoa, which is facing its first outbreak of the coronavirus two years into the pandemic.
(Dean Purcell / New Zealand Herald)
Share

Samoa will go into lockdown starting Saturday as it faces its first coronavirus outbreak, two years into the pandemic.

The move comes after a woman who was about to leave the Pacific island nation tested positive for the virus. It is the first time Samoa has found any unexplained cases in the community and probably points to an undetected outbreak that has been going on for days or even weeks.

A government report leaked online indicates that the woman had visited church services, a hospital, stores, a library and a travel agency since first feeling ill Saturday.

Advertisement

Samoa and several neighboring island nations were among the last places on Earth to avoid virus outbreaks. But the more transmissible Omicron variant has changed the equation, and one by one the island nations have witnessed infections.

Since the start of the year, Kiribati, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands and American Samoa have all experienced their first big outbreaks.

John Fala, who runs a logistics company in Samoa, said it was inevitable that the coronavirus would eventually come to Samoa, a reality brought home for many when it began spreading in nearby American Samoa.

What accounts for BA.2’s recent success? It’s not due to an ability to evade the protection of COVID-19 vaccines, a new study finds.

March 17, 2022

“We’ve had two years to prepare,” Fala said. “Now it’s finally here. Of course, there is going to be a bit of scrambling.”

Starting Saturday, all schools will be closed, public gatherings will be banned, and all stores and other services will be shut down, except those considered essential. People are also required to wear masks.

There were reports Friday of panic-buying ahead of the lockdown.

Fala, who is vaccinated, said that his company is considered an essential service and that he’s frantically trying to navigate the new rules to keep it operating.

Advertisement

Drugmaker Moderna asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a fourth shot of its COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose for all adults.

March 17, 2022

The lockdown is initially scheduled to last through midnight Tuesday, but Fala expects it will be extended.

The father of three young children, Fala said his biggest concern is that unvaccinated children will catch the coronavirus. He said the nation of 200,000 had good rates of inoculation among adults but had only just begun vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 in the last week or so.

About 65% of all Samoans have had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data.

Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa told people about the positive case in a special announcement to the nation late Thursday. She said that the infected woman was in isolation and that her movements and contacts with people were being traced.

The measles outbreak in Samoa is a stark and sad illustration of what can happen when the agents of fear and misinformation persuade parents to shun childhood vaccinations.

Dec. 7, 2019

Mata’afa said officials wanted to do all they could to contain it from spreading rapidly.

“Although our country continues to traverse through these difficult times, let us continue to trust in the Lord,” Mata’afa said in her announcement.

Samoa has had previous coronavirus scares and lockdowns after returning plane passengers tested positive while isolating, but had managed to avoid any community outbreaks until now.

Advertisement

Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Nauru are among the few remaining Pacific island nations to have avoided Omicron outbreaks.

Advertisement