The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) as the government ministry leading COVID-19 response, acknowledge concern raised by the Opposition Office regarding dire situation in India and the government’s plans to acquire bulk of AstraZeneca vaccines from India.
Additionally the Opposition Office claimed that the local shipping agent of MV Chefoo that arrived in the past two weeks with a crew member, COVID-19 positive, boarded the ship before health clearance.
As such, Health would like to provide further information to clarify the concerns raised.
The Solomon Islands Government had requested 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from India, the world’s largest supplier of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Due to unfortunate situation in India we anticipate a delay in delivery of vaccine to Solomon Islands. However, the situation in India had adversely affected the entire global supply chain of COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine resulting in anticipated delays in delivery of the vaccine from COVAX facility too and it has been a setback to our plan to roll out the vaccine in Solomon Islands.
However, the MHMS is actively monitoring the global COVID-19 vaccine situation. Discussions with other bilateral partners to secure more COVID-19 vaccines including AstraZeneca vaccines have already commenced and this will be communicated when appropriate. The UNICEF and the WHO have been working to make sure that we get at least 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine so that we can immunize the people with their second due dose.
A global disruption of COVID-19 vaccine, will however, delay our plans to vaccinate our entire population, hence we will have a guarded approach towards easing the other public health measures such as border restrictions so as to make sure that our populations are protected.
With claims by the opposition, that the local shipping agent of MV Chefoo, boarding the vessel before being cleared by health is incorrect. The shipping agent boarded MV Chefoo with a Port Health Quarantine Officer of the Ministry of Health who cleared the vessel after conducting health assessment and review of relevant health documentation provided by the captain.
Whilst boarding and when on board, both were using appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gown, face masks and gloves, and observed all Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) standards of physical distancing of at least 1.5 meters from the crew and the captain and maintained frequent hand washing with hand sanitizers.
More importantly, both had undergone risk assessment by health’s surveillance team who concluded that the risks level for the two to have contracted the virus from the crew member was zero. This risk assessment is a standard practice for all frontline workers upon completion of their duties.
Boarding of foreign vessels arriving in Solomon Islands by both shipping agent and health port quarantine officer is required because the agent is responsible to receive documentation from captain and provide them to the health port quarantine officer for assessment. Thus, it is part of the overall standard operating procedure set in place for clearances of foreign vessels during this COVID-19 pandemic period.
All shipping agents who boarded ships have also undergone a number of COVID-19 related trainings mainly on PPEs and IPCs and never at any time boarded the ships without an officer from the health port quarantine division of the Ministry of Health. There is no special favor granted to any shipping line, the first and foremost objective of clearance of ships is to make sure that it poses no risk to the Solomon Islands.