The whole island of Efate has been placed in a temporary lockdown as of yesterday afternoon.
The lockdown will be effective until health risk assessments on contact tracing and precautionary testing are completed.
Prime Minister (PM) Bob Loughman conveyed the information in Parliament yesterday afternoon, following Vanuatu’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.
The inter-island travel restrictions in and out of Port Vila, specifically for people, is categorised under Scenario 3, based on the Vanuatu COVID-19 Transmission Scenarios.
Further to that, all international repatriation flights and domestic passenger flights in and out of Port Vila are cancelled until further notice. These measures are also applicable to maritime services. But these restrictions do not apply on movements of cargos on planes and inter-island vessels.
The decision was approved by the Council of Ministers (COM) as efforts to step up precautionary measures to address the issue at hand.
Scenario 2A and part of Scenario 3 has been applied in response to the case. Despite the declaration of the first case, rules for the general public to adhere to does not change, as per Scenario 2A.
This means that there are no restrictions on schools, workplaces, public or private gatherings. Business houses are urged to continue to maintain hand washing stations, authorities concerned are to prepare response plans and public at large are required to comply with hygiene and prevention measures.
PM Loughman said actions that are to be implemented under Scenario 2A include the transfer of the case from the quarantine facility to the Vila Central Hospital (VCH) isolation facility, ensuring that all standard protocols are applied when treating the case.
Authorities were tasked to trace and quarantine all persons who have had close contact with the case. Other actions include increase risk communication about the situation, transmission and preventive measures and increase community engagement to prepare and respond.
Surveillance and tracing of all close contacts commenced on Tuesday, November 10, when the case was detected, to be able to determine the health risks that could be posed by the first case.
All citizens planning to travel back to Vanuatu are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result within a 72-hour travel time, before departing from their port of origin. The COM has also approved an increase for the quarantine period from 14 to 28 days.
Loughman warned that should anyone is caught breaching any of these rules; he or she will be dealt with accordingly.
The head of the government has assured everyone that the government would continue to apply strict protocol measures to ensure this case is contained. Social distancing and good hygiene practices must be continued.
In the wake of Vanuatu's first case of coronavirus being confirmed, PM Loughman urged the public not to panic and stay calm because the government has the situation under control.
He confirmed that a 23-year-old ni-Vanuatu male is the country's first confirmed case of coronavirus.
The Ni-Vanuatu traveled from the USA to Port Vila, via Sydney and Auckland on November 4. He tested positive for coronavirus in quarantine.
USA is considered one of the countries at high risk of COVID-19.
PM Loughman said of the 153 repatriates, only one tested positive and has been isolated with all strict protocols applied.
He reiterated the appeal for people not to panic.
It is vital for everyone to continue to follow social distancing and hygiene advices to keep our country safe, he said.
“Everyone must listen to the health authority and follow advice. Everyone must also cooperate with frontline agencies in implementing safety measures.
“People should be obtaining information and advices from the appropriate website: www.covid19.gov.vu. The government is monitoring the situation and will provide updates to the public."
The PM also announced during debate in parliament following the National Disaster Committee (NDC) and COM meetings yesterday that the government will be providing Vt208 million to tackle the first case.
This fund will be used to trace and monitor all close contacts thus, ensure the coronavirus case is contained.
The PM assured that the government, through the COVID-19 Taskforce is well prepared to respond to this first case.
“As citizens of a Christian nation, we should not be afraid therefore, pray and ask God for protection in this time," he said.
“I want to end my statement with a verse from Isaiah 41:10: ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’”
MPs from both sides of the House recommended that the duration of keeping repatriates in quarantine be increased.
Both the Prime minister and the Minister for Climate Change who is also responsible for COVID-19 national committees assured the MPs that they will take the concerns raised into consideration when stepping up strict measures and protocols on COVID-19 as Vanuatu now no longer COVID-19 free.
Opposition Leader Ralph Regenvanu thanked the Prime minister for the strict measures and protocols that have applied so far by the Vanuatu authorities to isolate and contain the case, as well as further strict measures and protocols expected to be put in place to ensure the one-case of the COVID-19 remains contained.
MPs from both sides of the house commended the Prime minister for his leadership and responsible authorities for taking the country forward with confidence as the first case of the COVID-19 is reported and is being contained.
Director of Public Health, Len Tarivonda has confirmed all people who were on the same flight with the infected person including two Air Vanuatu crew, border control officers who were on duty that day and driver of the vehicle used for transportation to quarantine as the potential close contacts will be tested.
Director Tarivonda assured that protocols are already in place to address this scenario and the public must continue to take precautionary measures such as washing hands with water and soap frequently and social distancing.
He said this first case of coronavirus identified in quarantine has demonstrated the strength of the country's quarantine process as a measure to prevent importation to the community.
Health officials said there is a high chance of containing the virus.
Everyone is encouraged to pray always for God’s protection over Vanuatu.