The Vanuatu Opposition has called on the Government’s National COVID-19 Advisory Committee, to improve its coordination and communication on the quarantining of citizens repatriated from overseas due to the coronavirus.
Opposition Leader, Ralph Regenvanu, this week called on the Government to show “true leadership” in coordinating the quarantine arrangements for repatriated travelers.
Mr Regenvanu claims the number of repatriated travelers currently in quarantine facilities exceeds the number the Health Ministry has set down to avoid the risk of the infection spreading.
The Vanuatu Ministry of Health has said there must be a maximum of 650 people in a quarantine facility at any one time.
Mr Regenvanua says, “The question is, why is the Government through its National COVID-19 Advisory Committee putting more people in quarantine than the number set down as safe by the Health Ministry?”
“I am concerned. What law is the National Disaster Committee, the Director General for the Climate Change Ministry, Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office and the National COVID-19 Advisory Team acting upon to allow such a thing to happen,” he said.
“I understand there are many pressures on the Government in repatriating our citizens but when I talked to our heads of missions overseas, I found out that communications between them and the Government is very poor.”
In response, the Spokesperson for the National COVID-19 Advisory Committee, Len Tarivonda, says the Government is under big pressure, particularly to repatriate stranded Vanuatu seasonal workers from overseas, so the advisory committee is stepping-up repatriations before the end of the year.
Mr Tarivonda says a chartered flight on Sunday from Christchurch in New Zealand that brought home many Vanuatu citizens pushed the numbers of repatriated travelers in quarantine over the maximum of 650 people.
“It is a challenge for us at the Ministry of Health and those at the Vanuatu Police Force as we had 50 more people return home on the flight and go into quarantine than the 650 set down as the ministry’s limit,” Mr Tarivonda said.
“But we have consulted the health team and they have agreed to work with that higher number of people in quarantine,” Mr Tarivonda said.
“This will not happen again in the future.”
He says the advisory committee will be more careful in the future to ensure any chartered flights only bring in a number of travelers that can be managed by the health and police teams working at the quarantine sites.
Mr Tarivonda says the number of repatriated travelers now in quarantine in Vanuatu is 741.
He says the overflow of repatriated travelers has forced the advisory committee to postpone two scheduled repatriation flights by Air Vanuatu that were to have taken place this week; one on Monday from Fiji; and one this Saturday from Brisbane, Australia.
He says the postponement of these flights will allow health workers and security officers to manage the high number of repatriated travelers Mr Tarivonda said.
So far the Vanuatu Government has repatriated around 1000 people in the second phase of repatriation. The second phase of repatriation kicked off in August.