On March 25th 2020 His Excellency the Governor General declared a State of Public Emergency in Solomon Islands. This follows on from the WHO’s declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11, pointing to the over 118,000 cases of the virus in over 110 countries and territories with the risk of spreading further to other parts of the world.
In a briefing WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom GHebreyesus said, “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector, so every sector and individual must be involved in the fight.”
In response The Solomon Islands Government has taken several bold steps in its effort to prevent the virus from reaching the country. One of the very first steps was to elevate the level of preparedness and response capabilities of the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) under the National Disaster Council to “Full Activation Mode”
Below is the current situation, highlights, steps and responses taken by the Government so far as per situation report number 05
- The Government established Joint Oversight Committee (OSC) for COVID-19 under the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet maintains its role in providing strategic direction.
- Solomon Islands remains under a “State of Public Emergency” (SOE) declared by His Excellency, theGovernor General. The SOE is further extended for another four months starting from 25th March 2020.
- “Honiara (Alligator Creek to Poha River) declared as the Emergency Zone” by theHonourable Prime Minister on Friday 27th March 2020.
- “Restriction of movement of small craft vessels declared for Solomon Islands Papua New Guinea Boarder” by the Honorable Prime Minister on 8th April 2020 under Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulation 2020.
- National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) and Provincial Emergency Operations Centres for all Provinces including Honiara City Municipality remains on “Full-On Activation mode” to support national and provincial coordination.
- National Disaster Operations Sector Committees (N-DOC Sectors) and Provincial Disaster Sector Committee (P-DOC) remains on Full-On Activation Mode.
- Provincial Disaster Committees (PDCs’)/Provincial Disaster Operations Committees (P-DOCs’) on all ten Provinces and Honiara Municipality has step up preparedness for response to COVID-19.
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for lockdown under development by NEOC with support of specific sectors.
- As of 19th April 2020, the country recorded NO CONFIRMED CASE of COVID-19. This was after the results of the two most recent samples sent on 8th April 2020 returned as NEGATIVE.
Solomon Islands remains COVID-19 FREE as of 19th April 2020 after the two last samples sent to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) in Melbourne, Australia returned as NEGATIVE test on the 19th of April. This confirms that of all the 13 samples collected through the COVID-19 Triage at the National Referral Hospital (NRH), all have tested NEGATIVE for COVID-19.
The country is yet to receive in country the COVID-19 testing equipment donated by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). The equipment is currently in Brisbane, Australia, awaiting airlift into Solomon Islands.
Given that neighboring Papua New Guinea (PNG) now has 7 Confirmed Cases of COVID-19, it is a major concern to the Solomon Islands. Recognizing the traditional connections and relationships on the Solomon Islands Papua New Guinea Border, particularly in family ties and trade, the border is regarded as a potential high-risk area of possible COVID-19 importation into the country. Thus, the Solomon Islands have taken no chances by stepping border security and surveillance as a preventative measure along the border in ensuring the lives, safety and security of communities living on the border, and broader Solomon Islands is protected.
Additionally, some Solomon Islands nationals living in PNG, Fiji and other countries are in communication with the Government for assistance. The requests are currently being discussed and appropriate support is being facilitated through the appropriate Government Agencies and the N-DOC Sector Committees.
The Government remains tough in implementing strict measures to prevent the importation and potential spread of COVID-19 within its borders to protect its people. All overseas passenger flights are currently on hold while essential cargo flights are done needs basis to support COVID -19 operations. Seaports Honiara and Noro continue to operate with strict measures in place to at the Points of Entry.
The declaration of State of Public Emergency on 25th March 2020 still exist and was further extended on 8th March for an additional four months commencing on the same date the declaration was proclaimed by His Excellency, the Governor General.
Measures put in place to limit mass gatherings including closure of schools mainly in Honiara city and Guadalcanal province, temporary halt on recreational activities, scaling down of non-essential public government services and repatriation of city dwellers to home provinces are still enforced. Restriction of movements for small crafts along the Solomon-PNG border and night curfews in Honiara are part of the stringed measures.
Remains on-going are the N-DOC Sector Committees planning and implementing their operations based on the Preparedness and Response Plan that is informed by SIG’s COVID-19 graded response structure for case scenarios. The case scenarios specify actions to be taken for zero up to 5 confirmed cases of COVID-19. N-DOC Sector Committees consist of Health, Camp Management (for managing of Quarantine Sites), Infrastructure, Livelihood, Protection and Education. Similar planning process is now extended to cover Honiara City as well as Guadalcanal, Central, Choiseul and Western Provinces. Guadalcanal Province shares common land boundary with Honiara city with both having many interdependencies of basic services and commercial activities. Provincial planning process on COVID-19 Preparedness and Response also aims to address these issues.
SOLOMON ISLANDS GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
- Oversight Committee established by Cabinet to provide strategic direction on a whole-of-government planning and response to COVID-19 continues to meet on a regular basis to discuss relevant measures.
- Government through the Office of the Prime Minister has conducted three talk back shows which is aired on radio, TV and online. The purpose is to update the country on the current Government response to the COVID-19. The latest talk back show was held yesterday Sunday 19th April 2020.
- The State of Public Emergency declared on the 25th March 2020 has extended to another four months as of Wednesday 08th April 2020. The four months commenced on 25th March 2020.
- N-DOC Sector Committees are stepping up in their COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plans (PRP) with the focus on broader socio-economic impact at both the national and provincial levels.
- Budget ($137.3 million) for implementation of the Preparedness and Response Plan has been allocated to the respective lead ministries of N-DOC Committees (MAL, MEHRD, MHMS, MWYCFA, MID, MPNSCS & MECDM).
- N-DOC Health Sector Committee is leading the health aspect of COVID-19 with broader coordination through the N-DOC.
- N-DOC Camp Management Sector Committee continues to manage all Institutional Quarantine Sites (IQFs). Currently all the IQFs are empty and close, however, in a state of operational readiness should there be need for quarantining.
- National Emergency Response Team (NERT) support to the Guadalcanal Province EOC and Camp Management EOC remains.
- NERT assigned with Camp Management will be deployed with the Sector Committee to Western and Choiseul Provinces on Wednesday 22nd April to conduct training on running a Quarantine Facility.
- The second batch of NERT (two man member team) has already been deployed to support Makira/Ulawa Province.
- Oversight Committee is working with development partners and multilateral banks to support SIG implement the COVID-19 PRP including an economic stimulus package.
- Consultation meeting with Provincial Disaster Committee (PDC) with the team by the National Security Department conducted on the 15th April in Gizo regarding the security assessment in Shortland Islands, and the Solomon Islands maritime border with PNG.
- RSIPF step-up boarder security as part of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulation 2020 that restricts movement of small crafts on the Solomon Islands-PNG border.
- Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) commenced delivery of medical supplies to the Provinces (18 pallets shipped to provinces, 7 pallets ready for delivery this week, whilst 3 pallets are still being prepared). Pallets content consists of normal medical supplies of drugs and consumables).
- Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development confirm resumption of classes to begin on 27th April 2020.
TO BE CONTINUED (NEXT ISSUE WILL FEATURE STEPS AND RESPONSES BY THE VARIOUS SECTOR COMMITTEES)