By Rudy Bartley
APIA, Samoa (Reuters) – Just a few months ago, the Pacific island nation of Samoa was in the grip of a deadly measles epidemic.
Now, medical staff are being redeployed, and facilities refitted, to combat the threat of coronavirus on an already stressed population.
While the isolated nation, located more than 1000 kilometers (621 miles) north-east of Fiji, has not recorded any COVID-19 cases, some of its residents are worried it is ill-equipped to combat the epidemic.
“When it comes, we don’t have the resources to prevent and cure, that’s why it’s a big concern to me,” musician Sio Silva told Reuters in the Samoan capital of Apia on Monday.
“We don’t know if it’s inside our island already but don’t have the resources to test it.”
The Pacific region has recorded six cases of COVID-19 – three in French Polynesia and three in Guam – although most island nations cannot screen for the virus onshore which is potentially masking its spread.
The Samoan government said in its most recent health update on March 14 that there were no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Pacific countries have been tightening their border controls to prevent the coronavirus from gaining a foothold in isolated islands with limited health resources.
All incoming air travel to the United States-backed Marshall Islands have been banned.
Travelers going to Samoa, a twin-island nation of approximately 200,000 people, must obtain a medical clearance report before boarding their flight, and passengers are screened on arrival.
White medical tents located near the main airport that were recently used to isolate measles patients will now be used to quarantine suspected coronavirus sufferers, the government said.
Last year’s measles outbreak killed 83 Samoans, mainly young children, in a health emergency that was only brought under control less than three months ago after a mass vaccination drive.
“We have to be prepared, anytime that the coronavirus might come and infect us, we have to get ready for that,” Naomi Iona, a radio announcer, told Reuters in Apia.
(Reporting by Rudy Bartley; writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)