Samoa has announced its first coronavirus case as the pandemic continues to spread to previously untouched Pacific island nations.
Samoa on Thursday said a sailor had tested positive for coronavirus after returning from Europe via New Zealand, in what would be the island nation’s first case if confirmed.
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As of Wednesday afternoon, the remote island country of about 200,000 people had recorded zero cases of coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization’s data.
The sailor had flown to Samoa from Auckland last Friday, and tested positive to the virus late on Wednesday after several days in a quarantine facility, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said.
“We now have one case and will be added to the countries of the world that have the coronavirus,” the mask-wearing leader said during a televised address on Thursday.
However, in a statement on Facebook later on Thursday, the nation’s government noted that a second test returned a negative result and that the man was in isolation at a local hospital.
The prime minister called for calm in his address as the country’s cabinet called a meeting with the latest health development on top of its agenda.
Until recently, the remote Pacific islands were among the most successful in the world at keeping out the virus after closing their borders early in response to the threat, despite the huge cost to tourism-reliant economies.
But in the past two months, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands and now Samoa have lost their coveted virus-free status, although none has so far reported community transmission.
The island nations and territories of Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Tonga, and Tuvalu are believed to still be free of the virus.
The cautious approach adopted in the Pacific islands was prompted by fears that they are particularly vulnerable because of poor hospital infrastructure and high rates of underlying health conditions such as obesity and heart disease.
The devastation a viral outbreak can create in such a fragile environment was demonstrated during a measles epidemic in Samoa late last year that claimed 83 lives, most of them babies and toddlers.