As repatriation flights are planned for Ni-Vanuatu currently stranded overseas, the Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a mock drill at the Port Vila International Airport yesterday on how to manage these flights.

MOH representative, Dr Basil Leodoro, who was the coordinator of this live exercise, was a guest on Buzz 96.3’s Vanuatu Nightly News and he says this has been an exciting time and a huge learning curve for the MOH as there were a lot of components to plan and prepare for to ensure Vanuatu remains COVID-19 free.

Dr Leodoro says there was a good collaboration with the MOH’s partners to ensure the process in place is fully tested so they can all learn and improve when more information is received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on repatriation flights.

The live exercise was approved by the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO).

Dr Leodoro says it was a challenging but a rewarding exercise as it puts the right people in the right place in order to formulate a great plan. Prevention and preparedness for COVID-19 when more repatriation flights come in. People involved officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs, NDMO logistics unit, and health technical advisory group made up of medical specialists who are looking through the best scientific evidence in their medical literature to ensure it is available.

Staff from the Shefa Provincial Health team were also involved as community health should always be a consideration as well as the Vila Central Hospital Emergency department, the mental health department to provide psychological social support, the pediatric department, the gynecology department in case one of the passengers is pregnant and the infection prevention control staff.

Dr Leodoro encouraged everyone to maintain social distancing, hand washing and no face touching throughout the live exercise. He says they were fortunate to involve the Police joint operation centre which involves the Vanuatu Mobile Force and the Police Maritime Wing.

ProMedical and ProMedical Rescue were also involved. Customs, Biosecurity, Air Vanuatu, Airports Vanuatu, and immigration officers were involved in the exercise planning.

Dr Leodoro says there are a lot of team leaders who came together to talk through this process in order to safeguard the country’s borders during these repatriation flights. He is impressed with the participation as the line departments focused well on the protection of the officers and wider communities. He says it was a great opportunity to test the standard operation procedures they created and a good way to make sure they align.

Wan Smol Bag provided actors to act as passengers. They walked off the flight into the quarantine setup to the immigration, customs and biosecurity setup, border control setup and right through to being transported through town to the quarantine facility. Dr Leodoro says they learnt a lot and he is privileged to work alongside the brightest officers who put themselves on the front line to protect Vanuatu.

Dr Leodoro says he is thankful to Air Vanuatu for allowing their aircraft to be used. He says by using the aircraft they could examine the seating arrangement and movement of the passengers. The Shefa health officers could then practise how to control passenger movement from their seats to the exit and behind the steps where health, quarantine, immigration and biosecurity stations are to be setup.

Dr Leodoro says paper work such as arrival cards are made available at the ports of departure. This is to minimize time spent on the tarmac on arrival so the passengers can be taken to their quarantine facility as quickly as possible.

Dr Leodoro also thanks Airports Vanuatu General Manager of Operations, Kevin Abel and those in their response team especially Alie Nagof and Judah Silas who allowed the exercise to take place in the most realistic way possible.

This is the biggest exercise of such nature to have happened and Dr Leodoro gives credit to the team involved in the planning stage from the MOH, the Vanuatu Health Program supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the World Health Organization.

All specialists are brought together to ensure the safety and security of the passengers and officers at all times. The Airports Vanuatu team helped conduct the exercise which brought together the best people and efforts. They are working with what they have and if what they have is a risk, they change it, if it is an advantage they keep it. Everyone across all sections are now ready and aware.

Director of Public Health, Len Tarivonda and Director of Corporate Services, Policy and PlanningDr Posikai Samuel Tapo, were also involved. The commitment from the COVID-19 task force and the national disaster committee was excellent.

Positive feedback was received and this is being used to inform policy makers. Now they are working to fine tune operations so Vanuatu can be prepared as much as possible for the safety of the repatriated passengers and officers involved.

Dr Leodoro says experience from other countries is greatly appreciated as learning from them helps bring teams together under one roof. Vanuatu is still COVID-19 free and is so fortunate to be able to plan this well and be fully prepared. Other nations who did not close their borders early were not as fortunate as Vanuatu.

In terms of quarantine facilities, they are yet to confirm the facility to be used. They are currently examining a few facilities and assessing the risks and hazards that may be involved. NDMO will need to confirm the approval of these facilities and make sure they are COVID-19 ready. This is a new experience for all.

Dr Leodoro encourages everyone to always listen to advice from MOH, NDMO and WHO and not to listen to fake news off the street. In order to keep safe from COVID-19 they need the support from everyone.

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