Having just completed two weeks quarantine in both Australia and Port Vila I wanted to make a few comments regarding the Vanuatu quarantine system.
I know that many people in the community are against the borders being opened at all to returning citizens and residents.
Unfortunately, it would seem that any vaccine is still a way off and that quarantine is really the only way to deal with essential travel to and from Vanuatu.
It is naive to think that the borders can remain 100% closed.
There are any number of reasons why people have to temporarily leave Vanuatu and later return back to their home – medical emergencies and repatriation of seasonal workers are the most obvious but something as innocuous as Air Vanuatu pilots requiring additional overseas training shows that the idea of closing everything down permanently is not practical.
Globally, it has been shown that quarantine is the answer but the associated risks of COVID-19 entering Vanuatu means it must be done thoughtfully and thoroughly.
My first concern with quarantine in Port Vila registered when I was transported from the airport to the hotel.
The bus transporting everyone was very dirty and had not been cleaned in a long time. My concern was not with the dirt, my concern was that I believe that the bus had been used a few days earlier to transport other quarantine passengers and it had not been cleaned since.
The point is that we know COVID-19 can stay on surfaces for up to five days.
Any bus used to transport potential COVID carriers is an obvious area where the virus can spread if it has not been thoroughly cleaned after every use.
A similar thing happened at the hotel where we were required to wash our own plates and to leave them outside the room to be collected and taken back to the kitchen.
If I had the virus, my plate could be contaminated. If my plate is then given to someone else they could become infected.
You can see where this is going and why this virus must be treated with the uttermost care.
In Australia everything that was delivered to the room was disposable.
Nothing left the room that wasn’t destroyed immediately.
My biggest concern however was that I was not tested for COVID-19 when I left quarantine. Each day I had my temperature taken and I was asked to report any illness but none of these deals with the fact that I may be asymptomatic.
Some experts are saying that as many as 20% of COVID carriers are asymptomatic.
The only way to be sure that someone is not a carrier is to test everyone in quarantine.
I do not wish to be critical of the Government or the NDMO. Every member of the repatriation and quarantine team acted professionally in a system that is new and still evolving.
I guess the reason for this letter is just to stress that the smallest breakdown in procedures could result with a situation that needn’t have occurred and I hope that everyone involved remains vigilant in these strange times.