The small Pacific island nation of Samoa has closed schools and is restricting travel ahead of the Christmas holiday season as the death toll from a measles outbreak tops 50, in the latest flare-up of a global epidemic of the virus.
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi yesterday ordered a government shutdown to help combat the outbreak.
Malielegaoi said it was time to immunize everyone under the age of 60 in the island with a population of 200,000 people.
To achieve the goal, he said government services and departments would close on Thursday and Friday this week in order to allow all public servants to assist with the mass vaccination campaign throughout the country.
He said only electricity and water utility workers would be exempt and called on the nation to stand together to contain the outbreak.
“In this time of crisis, and the cruel reality of the measles epidemic, let us reflect on how we can avoid recurrence in the future,” Malielegaoi said in a national address.
Malielegaoi was unequivocal in his message, adding “vaccination is the only cure ... no traditional healers or kangen [alkaline] water preparations can cure measles.”
“Let us work together to encourage and convince those that do not believe that vaccinations are the only answer to the epidemic. Let us not be distracted by the promise of alternative cures,” he said.
The highly infectious disease has been crossing the globe, recently finding a susceptible population in Samoa, where vaccine coverage was only about 31 percent when measles took hold, according to the WHO.
In just over two weeks, the official death toll has jumped more than 10-fold to 53 yesterday, the Samoan government said. There are now more than 3,700 cases of measles recorded in the island’s deeply religious population of around 200,000.
“All our schools are closed, national exams have been postponed,” said Reverend Vavatau Taufao, general secretary of the Congregation Christian Church in Samoa.
“We are still having church services but if it gets worse we will have to stop church altogether — and it’s almost Christmas,” he added.
The vast majority of deaths were of children, with 48 out of the 53 aged four or under dying from the disease, according to a government update.
Measles cases are rising worldwide, even in wealthy nations such as Germany and the US, as parents shun immunization for philosophical or religious reasons, or fears, debunked by doctors, that such vaccines could cause autism.
Other nations, through either poverty or poor planning, have let immunization levels slip, exposing their youngest members to a disease that aggressively attacks the immune system.
WHO warned in October of a devastating comeback in measles epidemics as the number of reported cases rose by 300 percent in the first three months of this year.
Reported measles cases are the highest they have been in any year since 2006, the WHO said.
After causing devastation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine, among others, measles cases started appearing en masse earlier this year in the New Zealand city of Auckland, a hub for travel to and from small Pacific islands.
Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, said there were pockets of the community where immunization rates had slipped, allowing the disease to take hold.
“It’s about being a good global citizen really, in that we all have to do our bit,” Petousis-Harris said.
“I don’t think that the response here has been a shining example. Because first of all we were aware of the possibility or the potential for this and that’s been the case for a long time,” she added.
Samoan authorities have blamed low coverage rates in Samoa in part on fears caused last year when two babies died after receiving vaccinations shots, according to local media reports.
The country’s immunization program was also temporarily suspended. The deaths were later found to have been caused by medications that were wrongly mixed.
Samoa has been racing to administer vaccines to children since declaring a state of emergency on Nov. 20 and has vaccinated 58,150 people so far, the government said on Monday.
However, infection rates and deaths are still climbing quickly with five fatalities in the past 24 hours, according to government data, prompting emergency restrictions on public gatherings and travel leading up to Christmas.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters they were sending additional vaccines and dozens of medical professionals to Samoa to help with the outbreak.
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
Indonesian officials are forcing people who break social distancing rules to recite Koran verses, stay in “haunted” houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging novel coronavirus infections. The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying about 340,000 troops across two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing masks in public. However, provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the coronavirus. Police in western Bengkulu Province have assembled a 40-person squad to find lockdown scofflaws and force them to wear