COVID-19 UPDATE: NATIONWIDE ADDRESS BY PRIME MINISTER MANASSEH SOGAVARE

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MONDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2020

Introduction

Fellow Solomon Islanders, a very good afternoon to all of you who are listening and watching from in and around our beloved country.

My good people, before I proceed to our COVID-19 updates, I would like to join the many thousands of our citizens around the country on behalf of the government, to congratulate the two newest Members of Parliament for North East Guadalcanal Mrs Ethel Vokia and for Central Honiara Mr Alfred Efona.

Honourable Mrs Ethyl Vokia, and Hon. Alfred Efona, let me welcome you both to the select group of Solomon Islanders who have had the honour, and the privilege to be elected to our National Parliament.

Our good people from these two constituencies have spoken. I applaud all the voters and supporters of all the candidates for upholding law and order, and for ensuring the elections were done peacefully, freely, and fairly.

Let also express a special thank you to the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission, the new Electoral Commissioner and your staff, and everyone that made the by-elections successful.

 I also acknowledge the important role played by the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force in ensuring security for the election process in both constituencies.

The RSIPF mounted a huge operation which involved 589 police officers to support the Electoral staff in both Constituencies. They provided security at all 36 polling stations in the Central Honiara constituency, and all 20 polling stations in the North East Guadalcanal Constituency to ensure the by-elections were safe, secure, and fair.

The RSIPF also provided escort of ballot boxes to Rove Police Headquarters, and further provided security of all the ballot boxes prior to, and during the counting of votes at the counting venue.

New Case

Fellow citizens let me now give you an update on the current COVID-19 situation in the country.

My good people, I regret to inform you that we have registered another positive COVID-19 case in the country. The case is one of our nationals that returned to the country on the Garuda Airlines charter flight that arrived from Indonesia on 17 November 2020.

This latest case now brings the total number of registered cases in the country to 17. Of the  17, six are now negative, and 11 remain positive. Of the 11 cases, 10 are our soccer players that returned from England on 25 October 2020.

Fellow citizens, this revelation has raised a new concern in relation to the virulence of the COVID-19 strain that came in from the United Kingdom. These players have now been in the country for 4 weeks. However, unlike the cases that came from Philippines and Korea that converted to negative within 2-3 weeks, the strain from the UK is still positive after 4 weeks.

This finding has fully vindicated our testing protocol whereby we require 3 consecutive negative tests after the person tested positive before they can be released from the quarantine station to a lower level (step down) quarantine facility for another week before being released home.

If we had followed the current global practice of releasing these persons without further testing on day 14 after they tested positive, we would have released people that are still positive into the community and started a community transmission of the virus.

The next test of the soccer players is scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday 24 November 2020. This is 30 days after their return to Solomon Islands. It is my hope that most if not all of them will come back negative so that the numbers of active cases in our country can reduce from the current 11 cases to a lower figure.

Fellow citizens, I am pleased to inform you all that our Field hospital will most likely become operational this week. Once it is opened, all our existing Covid-19 positive cases will be transferred to the new field hospital.

Work will also start soon on the refurbishment of the current TB ward at the National referral hospital to convert it into a 16-bed isolation facility. Once completed this facility will enhance the Ministry of Health’s capacity to manage patients requiring isolation facilities.

Fellow citizens I am deeply sorry to inform you all that the repatriation flight from Manila that was scheduled to arrive tomorrow, Tuesday 24 November 2020, has been cancelled to a later date.

The reason for the cancellation is that we have just received the test results of all 143 passengers a short while ago, and 6 of the students returned positive tests for Covid-19.

This is extremely unfortunate as this flight had been planned for a long time. We commenced our 21-days pre-departure tests 3 weeks ago on those that were scheduled to travel on this flight.

Obviously, the students had broken quarantine in Manila. They could not have contracted Covid-19 in the hotel. They would have gone out of the hotel. They have now put all the students living in the same hotel at risk.

Given this new development, and the likelihood that many of the other students scheduled for this flight would have been exposed to the 6 positive students, the Oversight Committee had recommended that the flight be postponed to another date. Our health team is currently undertaking contact tracing. As soon as we have a clearer picture of the situation, we will reschedule the flight.

I ask all the students remaining in Manila at huge cost to the country, please, do not do things that will put other students and our country at risk. We will establish if the 6 students had broken quarantine. The consequence of the 6 positive cases is the cancellation of tomorrow’s flight.

My good people I thank you for your continued support to our students staying in our quarantine stations in the country. They deserve our support as they undergo this sacrifice to protect our nation.

I am happy to reassure the nation that where we can, we will intervene to stop the importation of Covid-19 into the country, as we have just done with the cancellation of the flight from Manila tomorrow.

Where the virus had inadvertently entered the country, we will detect, isolate, manage and eliminate it from our border quarantine stations.

With God’s Grace, and the dedication of all our front-liners, we have been able to contain all Covid-19 cases in the country to date, in our quarantine stations.

Repatriation flights

A total of 156 people arrived in the country last week, 16 from Indonesia including 3 nationals, 22 from Brisbane and 124 citizens from Kiribati and Fiji. 139 Indonesian nationals also returned to Indonesia via the Indonesian Government arranged Garuda Airlines repatriation flight on 17 November 2020.

All passengers from these flights are in quarantine and have had their first tests, resulting in one of our citizens returning from Indonesia testing positive.

The Oversight Committee is scheduling other repatriation flights with a focus on low risk countries over the December and January 2021 period.

Surveillance and Health Quarantine

Daily monitoring for last week’s arrivals had commenced with COVID-19 testing as per the country’s quarantine testing protocols.

The 16 that arrived from Indonesia, will undergo 21 days of quarantine and four rounds of testing. The positive case will be quarantine for a longer period.

Passengers arriving from Australia, will undergo 14 days of quarantine with three tests. Passengers arriving from Fiji and Kiribati will undergo 14 days of quarantine with two tests.

Acknowledgement to partners

Fellow citizens, many governments and organizations have provided much support to our COVID-19 efforts in the country, and in other countries where our citizens are waiting to come home from.

I wish in particular to recognize once again the Solomon Islands Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Pacific Office in Suva, the Red Cross in the Philippines and in the United Kingdom who had come in to assist in the pre-departure arrangements for our citizens in these countries. Last week the Fiji based Red Cross and Red Crescent Pacific Office assisted our students in Fiji in the predeparture testing arrangements.

I also express my government’s sincere gratitude to the Fiji’s Ministry of Health’s Centre for Disease and Control (CDC) for their support in conducting the COVID-19 tests for all our departing students and citizens.

Fellow citizens allow me to also thank the New Zealand Government, for the funding support that enabled the testing for our students and their family members that arrived from Fiji last week.

In this regard, I continue to express my government’s sincere appreciation to all our development partners for their substantial support to our ‘Iu-Mi together Against COVID-19’ efforts.

In particular I acknowledge with thanks the huge contributions from Governments of Australia, New Zealand, Peoples Republic of China, Japan, Indonesia, and Multilateral Institutions including the World Health Organisation, and other United Nations Agencies, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank

Without your ongoing support, our fight against COVID-19 would not be as effective as it currently is, despite there still being areas we can and are improving on.

Border Security – Immigration

Fellow citizens, the 7th border deployment of our Immigration team has just been completed, and the deployed staff have recently returned to Honiara. The 8th deployment will set out to SI-PNG border on Wednesday 25th November 2020.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force deployment is in full operation at the border zone.

The seven nationals who were quarantined at the western border were released last week after completing their 14 days quarantine. They tested negative three times as per our COVID-19 testing protocol.

Fellow citizens, a key feature of our  border security operations is to ensure we prevent or minimise opportunities for cross-border transnational organised crime.

In this regard I am pleased to note that a ‘Joint Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the relevant agencies on transnational organized crime’ is being worked on by a working group comprising Immigration, Financial Intelligent Unit, Police, and Customs. .

The transnational organized crime working group has agreed on the Terms of Reference to guide the development and implementation of the MOU.

The MOU will allow cooperating agencies to share information including intelligence collation and gathering. The MOU will help respective parties to combat transnational organized crime nationally, regionally, and internationally.

Education

My good people, as you are aware, Cabinet has endorsed the early closure of this year’s academic calendar because of the pandemic. The government through the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) has decided that all schools in the country will close on the 27th November 2020.

King George VI National Secondary School has taken an early closure on Friday 20th November 2020. This is in response to the urgent need for quarantine spaces for our returning students from Fiji and Vanuatu institutions.

Fellow Citizens, the government has also decided that only graduating students in overseas institutions will be repatriated this year.

All continuing students will remain in their respective host countries and institutions with government support during this period.

The government has also committed to meet the travelling allowances for all teachers with the first payments already done for some teachers through respective bank accounts on Thursday 19th November 2020. The remaining two payments are expected to be made on 3rd and 17th December 2020.

Fellow citizens let me thank all our teachers on behalf of the government for their support throughout this year. 2020 has been a challenging year for all of us but you have continued to provide support to our children. Thank you also to our children, students, and parents for your continuous support.

State of Public Emergency

Fellow citizens, you will recall in my weekly National Address on Monday, 16th November 2020, that Cabinet had approved the deferment of the Public Health Emergency Bill.

The ‘entry’ of Covid-19 into our country had shifted our focus to contain the virus thereby taking resources away from the completion of the Public Health Emergency Bill.

Cabinet has therefore endorsed my recommendation to His Excellency the Governor-General to issue a 3rd Proclamation that a State of Public Emergency exists in Solomon Islands from the expiry of the current SOPE on 24 November 2020, a further 4 months.

This is the only way we can contain COVID-19 and give ourselves the chance to eliminate it from our shores.

Conclusion

Fellow citizens, our strategy to identify, isolate, manage and eliminate COVID-19 from our country is working. We are containing the virus in the border quarantine facilities.

We urge our students waiting to be repatriated from Manila to take absolute care. Do not to go out from the hotels to the surrounding communities. Manila has an extremely high Community transmission rate. It is very unfortunate that 6 students had tested positive. This has led to the cancellation of the full flight tomorrow.

We continue to pay tribute to all our front-line workers and your families. Your dedication and sacrifices are what is keeping our country safe, Thank you.

Fellow citizens continue to pray for God’s divine blessing on our nation. He is our protector and defender.

Let me close with a quote from the Book of Psalms Chapter 91 verse 4, and I quote…

He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you”.

To God be the Glory, Great things He has done.

IUMI TUGEDA AGAINST COVID-19.

God Bless Solomon Islands and her people from Shore to Shore.

……

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