PREPARATIONS AND ACTIONS TO RESPOND TO THE CORONA VIRUS PANDEMIC IN SOLOMON ISLANDS
My fellow Solomon Islanders:
The world is facing a common and invisible enemy that does not respect geographical boundaries – the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
The World Health Organization declared the Corona Virus a Global Pandemic on 11 March 2020. This simply means the Corona Virus is spreading much, much faster than is normally observed for such viruses.
Its ability to spread rapidly and the fact it does not yet have a vaccine makes it a very dangerous virus.
As of today, the Corona Virus has spread to more than 173 countries globally. More than 219,000 people have been infected globally and it has caused more than 8,950 deaths. 4 pacific countries – Guam, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Fiji have now reported positive cases of Corona Virus.
Many countries have closed their borders to international travel, as they turn their attention to managing local community transmission.
Around us, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji have all tightened their border controls. Any person going into these countries from overseas must now practice self-quarantine for 14 days before they can move around.
We are also learning more about this virus. For instance, we now know that:
- the virus is spread through close contact with infected persons, mostly by touching the hands or face of the infected persons.
- It is not airborne.
- It has symptoms very similar to ‘flu’, but it is much more infectious and can spread much faster.
- The virus can remain alive on surfaces for long periods allowing for others to touch and spread it.
- The period between contracting the virus and development of symptoms is on average between 2 – 10 days but could be longer,
- The virus could spread from the infected person before the symptoms fully appear
- The Corona Virus infection is more severe on the elderly population, and people with lower levels of immunity such as those with co-existing diseases including diabetes, organ diseases or chronic diseases. It is important we protect our vulnerable populations and ensure they are not unduly exposed to the virus.
- Young, healthy children and adults appear to withstand the Coronavirus infection better
In January this year, my government established a high level, multi-sector Corona Virus Oversight Committee, chaired by the Secretary to Cabinet to assess and to coordinate our response to the Corona Virus threat to our country.
The oversight committee has produced a draft multi-sectoral Corona Virus Preparedness and Response Plan. This plan is being refined. Once finalised it will guide the work of all government sectors, and partners including the private sector, churches, civil society, and communities.
Our oversight committee is supported by teams of dedicated experts in health and other important sectors. Our front lines are manned by our dedicated people from the respective border agencies.
We have established quarantine centres for people who need to be quarantined. We have some isolation capacity for persons that are infected. Our provincial hospitals are informed, and they stand ready to help.
Fellow citizens, as I speak to you today, Solomon Islands, have no cases of COVID-19.
The government’s response to the coronavirus aims to achieve 3 simple goals:
- First, to protect all Solomon Islanders and all people living in the Solomon Islands.
- Second, to keep the economic engine of our country going
- Third, to position the country to emerge from this challenge stronger and united.
In relation to the first goal, we have stepped up our response to achieve two basic objectives:
- Firstly, to prevent the introduction of the Corona Virus into the country, and
- Secondly, to prepare the country to respond effectively and efficiently in a coordinated manner if the Coronavirus enters the country.
To date, we are succeeding with both objectives.
The current measures to prevent the entry of the virus will continue.
However, the time has come for us to step up our response even further to protect our people and country. We must sharpen our response as if the Corona Virus is already here – so that we will not be found wanting, if and when it does get into the country.
To achieve this, we need to stand together to fight the Corona Virus. We need a bipartisan approach at the political level. Our private sector, our churches, our civil society, and our communities must be part of our strategy to fight coronavirus.
My fellow Citizens, from today we will be implementing the following additional measures incrementally to protect the Solomon Islands from the coronavirus. Most of the early actions focus on Honiara and Guadalcanal being the most vulnerable areas for the infection to start if it comes into the country.
- Early closure of all Schools in Honiara and Guadalcanal to proceed on an early school break from Friday 20 March. Students will vacate the boarding schools during the break. Schools in the rest of the country will remain open until the scheduled first- term school break. All schools will reopen in accordance with the school calendar in April unless the situation changes when further decisions will be made.
- Decisions on the tertiary institutions will be made by their respective authorities, noting the decision taken by the government in Honiara and Guadalcanal province Schools.
- All citizens not working and living in Honiara are encouraged to return or relocate to provinces immediately. Honiara is the most vulnerable location for the virus. It is important to reduce the population in Honiara during this time and in anticipation of a potential lockdown of the city should an outbreak occur.
- All citizens in the provinces are advised to NOT undertake any non-essential travel to Honiara with immediate effect.
- All traditional and non-traditional Border travelers using the Solomon Islands – PNG border are advised this border crossing will be closed effective Friday 20 March 2020. PNG has already closed its side effective today.
- Honiara Central market will remain open until further notice.
- Kukum Market will close indefinitely from Monday 23rd March 2020.
- Fishing Village market will close indefinitely from Monday 23rd March 2020.
- All illegal markets, makeshift betelnut markets within the Honiara City boundary and on Guadalcanal province from the eastern town boundary to Alligator creek and from the western town boundary to Poha will be closed by 23 March 2020.
- International and domestic flights will be reduced from Sunday 22 March 2020.
Decisions on flight reductions have been made by the airlines themselves as follows:
a. Virgin Airline’s last flight is today, Thursday 19th March 2020
b. Air Niugini is suspending all its flights for 2 weeks initially. Its last flight is this Sunday 20 March 2020.
c. Solomon Airlines is likely to reduce its flights to Brisbane to 3 flights a week.
d. There will also be reductions in Solomon Airlines’ domestic route
- Self-Quarantine – Incoming passengers from or who travelled through any country reporting cases of Coronavirus, regardless of nationality and number of cases reported in those countries will self-quarantine for 14 days, (a) at home (if they come with health/ medical certificate no older than 5 days prior to arrival date certifying clean bill of health) or (b) at institutional quarantine centre if (i) they travel through restricted or affected countries, (ii) do not have a medical certificate or (iii) they have some elderly or immune-compromised people at their homes), and (c) hotel rooms with effect Friday 20 March.
- Quarantine facilities/centres – The government has already secured several facilities to be used as quarantine centres for incoming passengers as well as for our own nationals that may need to be quarantined for a certain period of time from their homes. More facilities are being assessed to ensure they are ready for use if so needed.
- All Cruise Ships and yachts are banned with immediate effect for 90 days.
- All cargo ships, including all logging, mineral ore and fishing vessels must serve the 14 days quarantine period at sea and can only be cleared at Noro and Honiara Ports.
- Non-essential public gatherings including sporting events, fun-raising concerts, weddings, night clubs, kava bars are discouraged. This may extend to churches if the situation gets worse.
- Scaling down non-essential government services – Non-essential government services will be scaled down following an assessment by Permanent Secretaries, and in the case of Honiara City Council and Guadalcanal Province, the City Clerk and the Provincial Secretary of Guadalcanal Province respectively.
- ‘Tourism Solomons’ will temporarily halt all overseas marketing trips and reduce the frequency of events that would result in the gathering of people domestically.
- Prioritising Government Expenditure – All permanent secretaries are now reviewing and re-prioritising their respective ministry budgets in anticipation of budget pressures due to the Coronavirus.
- Sustaining Economic Activity and Growth – The government is currently analyzing appropriate ‘economic stimulus’ interventions to ensure the country’s economic engine continues to operate during the corona-virus-driven down-turn in economic activity.
- Regular Communication – Effective today, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Government Communication Unit will provide daily updates on the Corona Virus situation in the country on electronic, print and broadcast media.
- Establishing Capability to test Corona Virus at the NRH – The government is moving ahead to procure and set up the local capability to test Coronavirus at the NRH dengue laboratory within the next few weeks. Currently, we can only have our samples tested in Melbourne.
These measures will be reviewed regularly and will be adjusted as necessary to suit the situation on the ground.
Let me close by thanking and commending our dedicated teams from all government ministries who participate in the oversight group, all our ‘front line’ officers and all our partners.
My fellow-citizens, each one of us can do our part in preventing and/or reducing the transmission of the coronavirus if it ever enters our country through the following simple measures:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub.
- If you cough or sneeze—do it into your flexed elbow or use a tissue. Dispose of the tissue immediately into a closed rubbish bin, and then wash your hands. Do not cough/sneeze into your hands.
- Clean your house, offices or stores. Disinfect surfaces, tables or work desks.
- Practice social distancing. Keep at least 1.5 meters from the other person.
- No handshakes
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- If you feel unwell, stay at home, contact the health hotline  and other contacts that will be provided including 25256, 23650, or 75222022]. Avoid crowded places. Do not spread the disease to others.
Our health teams will continue to conduct a risk assessment.
The Ministry of Health has launched a Facebook Page [https://www.facebook.com/officialmhmssi/].
The ministry also uses the text messaging services of both Telekom and B-mobile to disseminate the latest information on Corona Virus to the public.
The government website page also carries information about coronavirus and can be found at – https://solomons.gov.sb/ministry-of-health-medical-services/essential- services/learn-about-coronavirus/.
Further updates will be provided on a regular basis.
My fellow Solomon Islands, we need to, we must work together to combat the Corona Virus if it enters our country.
My government will prioritise resources to support our preparedness and our response to the Corona Virus.
I am confident that with God’s Grace, we will stand united, and together we will succeed.
Thank you all,
May God Bless Solomon Islands from Shore to Shore.