MHMS clarifies seating arrangements of Auckland-Honiara flight & designated QS for arrivals from Korea

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The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) is deeply concerned with the irresponsible reporting without verifying the facts on the incidence related to the covid-19 patient who travelled from Korea to Honiara aboard the recent Auckland-Honiara repatriation flight on the 25th of October, along with Solomon Island’s football players from England.  We would like to clarify issues raised last week in a media report related to this incidence.

Seating arrangements of passengers in repatriation flights are collectively decided by Solomon Airlines and advice from the National Health Emergency Operation Centre (NHEOC). Every effort is taken to identify high risk passengers from those with low risks and their seating arrangements, respectfully. The seat allocation on board is based on risk assignment, for example people from UK and Europe carry a different risk than those from Korea and Japan and their seats were apart. Passengers from Korea were in rows 11-15 while those from UK were in row 22-25. One of the passengers who breached the protocol by removing his mask a few times during the flight was seated 9 rows behind the passengers from Korea.  

In terms of the person who travelled from Korea and was tested positive for Covid-19 in Solomon Islands, contracting the disease in aircraft during travel from Auckland to Honiara, is extremely low. He was tested within 48 hours of his arrival in Solomon Islands. In all likelihood, he contracted the infection while he was in Korea but the likelihood of him getting infected in flights from Korea and Japan and from Japan to Auckland and during transit in Japan cannot be ruled out.  

Our assessment is based on available knowledge on COVID-19, research, advise and guide provided by World Health Organization, and other credible organizations. We also have strict guidance issued to travelers and the Solomon Air crew ensures that these are adhered to. It is unfortunate that breach conducted by one person on board put the others at risk and we condemn the behavior of this individual. We will also put stringent measures in coming flights so that the travelers adhere to the infection protection and control practices.  

The Ministry of Health’s NHEOC also provides advice to camp management as to the allocation of quarantine stations to the arrivals based on risk assignments to mitigate quarantine spread and transmission beyond quarantine and isolation. People in quarantine are also obligated to adhere to the guidelines of the quarantine stations.  The risk in the citizens being repatriated from UK is different from travelers from Korea and Japan and they have been put in different quarantine centers. 

That said, all quarantine stations including King Solomon are properly assessed on regular basis to ensure that they meet Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures and that any risks of spread beyond the rooms are mitigated. Therefore, it must be noted that all quarantine stations are safe and secure to contain any positive cases from the public and that the transportation of covid-19 positive cases from quarantine stations to the NRH isolation wards are done under strict IPC protocols. 

So far country has registered total of 13 positive cases, all detected and contained within quarantine station. This is a testament of our effective preparedness and response so far. The NHEOC is working tirelessly to ensure that IPC measures and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidelines are strictly adhered to. 

On this note, MHMS would like to urge the public from making contact with any persons in quarantine and isolation. One single mistake could jeopardize all the good work of our country in containing the virus and preventing possible community transmission.  

Finally, MHMS would like to remind the media that to make a single phone call and expecting immediate answers to your enquires is simply not fair. Some of the questions and concerns raised requires information gathering by the ministry to properly address your questions for the sake of accurate and complete information for public consumption. 

Untimely delivery of truthful, complete and accurate information should be a better option than timely dissemination of inaccurate, incomplete and unbalanced news story. 

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