REPATRIATION exercise by the government that is currently underway with a direct flight from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a big risk to Solomon Islands’ losing its covid-19 free status.
Tuesday 1st September 2020 has been confirmed to be the day for the flight bringing in Solomon Islands nationals in China as well as Chinese nationals who will be here for the South Pacific Games 2023 preparation. Transparency Solomon Islands understands that a total of 88 passengers will board the direct China/Honiara flight. This will bring the number to nearly 100 if cabin crews and captains are included with regard to the number of people, touching base with the country of origin of coronavirus and its variant covid-19 entering Solomon Islands. This may seem small compared to other countries, however in the case of Solomon Islands, this is a huge risk with nearly 100 people amongst whom could be carriers, those who have been infected etc. and will be possible risk carriers of covid-19 entering Solomon Islands.
Like other concerned citizens, Transparency Solomon Islands (TSI) has been repeatedly calling on the government to cancel the proposed direct flight. But it seems the executive government is not listening anymore to the calls made by the citizens of this country.
The issue now is the safety of Solomon Citizens if any person from this flight is infected with the virus entering the country. The risk of anyone from those 88-passengers bringing covid-19 is high given the fact that people with strong immune system can be carriers of the virus but do not show any symptoms. Detection of virus is dependent very much on how sensitive the test is in picking up the lowest concentration of the virus as can be seen in people testing negative later showing symptoms and being tested positive for the virus. This is happening overseas where young people with strong immune systems are unknowing carriers of corona virus. And because they do not show obvious symptoms, they unknowingly transmit the virus. It is the aging people and those with weak immune system who got infected. We cannot rule out the possibility that this can happen in Solomon Islands, where some passengers arrived can be carriers of covid-19 but may not show any symptoms of the virus. Even though we might argue that there is a tough quarantine process in place to ensure none of those arrived has the virus, we must be cautious that not only those who felt sick or shows symptoms are the ones infected.
At this point in time, we must be cautious and should not trust any claims coming from China that they have lab-testing machines that can detect positive cases of covid-19. Not much information is coming out of there. There are concerns and complaints from countries in Europe like Spain with regards to testing kits from China, and these concerns speaks clearly of the reasons why we should be cautious of anything that comes from China during this pandemic. Spanish government threaten to send back consignment from China arguing that it is only 30 percent accurate when using it to do testing. Several other countries also raise the same complaints regarding the Chinese-made testing kits. More so, the recent trial of China-made vaccines in Papua New Guinea (PNG) by a Chinese mining company to treat covid-19 patients in PNG is a biggest concern for health authorities in PNG. The trial of the vaccines on PNG nationals working for the mining company has spark fear and worry amongst PNG health officials, since the World Health Organization has yet to officially approve any covid-19 vaccine. As a result, PNG government banned a recent proposed direct flight from China that was intended to bring mine workers to the Chinese state-owned Ramu Nickel mine in Madang Province. The Chinese-made machine to test covid-19 currently with our health authority in Honiara does not guarantee that it will help detect people with positive covid-19 cases. Solomon Islands must be cautious when we are dealing with China because of what we see happen in other countries can be repeated here. It is very concerning that the views of the citizens of this country are ignored. People are questioning where the current regime’s allegiance lay – is it the interest of the people or the interest of China? We seem to submit entirely to Beijing as if we are now a satellite city of China.
Transparency Solomon Islands is concern that initially the number of nationals alluded to by the Secretary to the Prime Minister (SPM) Dr. Jimmy Rodgers was 53. This was earlier announced by Dr. Jimmy Rodgers to be repatriated from China. Since then the number has increased and 35 more added to these stranded Solomon Islanders in China, making it 88 in total. This increase the chance of COVID 19 entering Solomon Islands. TSI understands that the Chinese Ambassador to Solomon Islands is also among those to take the direct flight to Honiara including engineers for the SPG 2023 preparation.
What is so important about preparations for the SPG whilst we are in the midst of a pandemic? Such a move to bring in workers for the SPG would be commended if there is no pandemic. As it is now, every other country is ensuring that their borders are secured, including China itself. Meanwhile Solomon Islands is heading in the opposite direction and opening up avenues that could potentially bring in covid-19 sooner than later. What is so concerning now is that, the safety of our citizens being put at risk does not seem to take priority with our leaders. The cabinet-approved flight directly from China to Henderson Airport not only go against the strong objection by the public but it is a life or death decision being made by the very people who should be prioritizing the health of the citizens. The decision now stands and we expect people coming directly from China to set foot in Honiara this week. Calls made for the government to publish the names of those people expected to travel from China to Honiara have been ignored. This is irresponsible on the part of the executive government and TSI reiterates its call to the government to publish the names of those who will be travelling directly from China to Honiara on Tuesday 1st September 2020. The government’s continuous failure to listen to the people shows a self-serving regime that does not serve the people and ignored the people’s concerns. A government that do whatever it wishes to do in order to satisfy their personal interests, at the expense of the citizens.
For transparency and accountability, the controversial direct flight from China to Honiara should allow Journalists to attend to witness who comes onboard and see how safety processes are adhered to on arrival and are duly quarantined. This is important to keep the public informed about this flight, the persons being brought in, the quarantine centers, the safety of our front liners who will be working with these inbound personnel’s, the process passengers were transported and kept at the quarantine centers. The captains and cabin crews and facilities within the plane and process for their quarantine.
Keeping the people informed is important as well as ensuring that there is no possibility of transmission of the covid-19 virus to our front liners. Seeing that this pandemic is far from over, we must take drastic measures to ensure we keep this out from our shores. Therefore, being cautious about any inbound personnel from China is not saying that they are positive with the covid-19 virus, rather we are acknowledging that there is a possibility of this virus being introduced into Solomon Islands via this particular avenue that has been approved by Cabinet. We must not ignore that this virus originated from China and the risk is still there. We do not have the capacity to deal with this if it is imported into Solomon Islands.
Transparency Solomon Islands understands that one female Solomon Islander contracted the virus while in China and was claimed to have recovered. It is important that if she is amongst the inbound personnel from China, there must be careful protocols in place with regards to observations during quarantine. As it has been reported in countries affected by this pandemic, persons who recovered were later tested positive again. There is no guarantee that a person who fully recovers from covid-19 and is not a risk anymore. People still experience symptoms they experienced as a result of covid-19. This means that we should not be complacent. Any person who was tested positive must be closely monitored and we must ensure that there is no doubt about someone being a potential covid-19 virus carrier like what happens in other countries. Our health officials must attend to her regularly to ensure the 21 days she will spend in the quarantine center exhausted the process to determine that she is fit and healthy to reunite with her family, without any possible threat of the virus she had suffered some months ago in China.
Furthermore, Transparency Solomon Islands is concern that, available data shows that all Asian countries are of high risks of covid-19 importation to Solomon Islands. Therefore, other repatriation flights proposed for Philippines and Indonesia purposely to repatriate students must be treated seriously. The same risks raised with regard the China-Honiara flight also applies. Philippines with more than 400 Solomon Islands students studying there is a big concern. Philippines latest update records a total of 3,520 deaths out of 217,000 cases. Our students studying in the Philippines are attending different academic institutions across the country therefore it is of high risks that some of these students likely contracted the virus. This is an issue that should be looked at it seriously and ensure that the repatriation from Philippines is done with tougher quarantine processes. Indonesia with 172,000 cases records 7,343 deaths in their latest update is not safe as well for repatriating Solomon nationals studying or working there. Every passenger to board the repatriation flights from Asian countries must undergo compulsory covid-19 tests in the country they reside at least a month prior to travelling and just before traveling and regular checks thereafter until leaving that country. This is to ensure that at least within the last 21 days prior to travel, they do not contract the virus. The updated data shows a frightening spread of this virus and death of people caused by this pandemic within these Asian countries.
This is a risk that must be considered very carefully, we are risking the entire nation. The decision to repatriate from these Asian countries must not be taken lightly. The government must not forget that during this SOE period, it is responsible to ensure that the people of Solomon Islands are protected from the importation of this virus. We have to tighten up and be consistent with our work to ensure the processes and measures enforced are upheld and abided to by those people travelling into the country. Since it is a decision from the cabinet to approve all the proposed repatriation flights from Asia, the cabinet and the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement (DCGA) must be ready to be held to account and more importantly to deal with the consequences should the virus spreads to claim lives and victims in Solomon Islands.