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Exercise boosts COVID-19 preparedness and response in Solomon Islands
04:40 am GMT+12, 27/05/2020, Solomon Islands

A two-day COVID-19 simulation exercise conducted by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) enabled the ministry to identify gaps to improve its preparedness and response to possible entry and outbreak of Covid-19.  
The exercise was conducted on the 20-21 May before and throughout the 36 hours’ lockdown and was part of the National Disaster Operations Committee’s effort to test national system capabilities to respond to Covid-19.  
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services Pauline McNeil highlighted during the weekly COVID-19 oversight committee radio talkback show that, the simulation exercise was very useful in assisting National Health Emergency Operations Centre (NHEOC) to identify gaps that need to be bridged, and strengthened.  
“The simulation exercise was indeed useful in enabling all teams under the NHEOC, from public health, planning and clinical operation to admin and finance and risk communication to identify gaps that need to be addressed in order that we effectively and efficiently prepare and respond to COVID-19,” McNeil explained.
She outlined that this includes reviewing and updating Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of various teams under NHEOC to ensure synchronization and harmonization to fill in those gaps identified during the exercise.  
McNeil also shared that one of the areas that MHMS had also identified and will work to improve is on the timely sharing of information amongst NHEOC teams in order that responses are also conducted in a timely manner.
“We’ve noted this shortfall and will make sure that improvements be made since delays in sharing of information affects all other elements of the COVID-19 response”.  
The two days’ simulation exercise involved individuals presenting COVID-19 like signs and symptoms to clinics in Honiara, transported by ambulance to the National Referral Hospital, admitted, tested, and isolated.
It also includes contact tracing of family and friends who have come into close contact with the COVID-19 patient and timely and accurate dissemination of information to keep the public well informed with correct and accurate information.  
McNeil acknowledged the participation of front line health workers, supporting staff, and volunteers who have made the exercise last week a successful one.  
“Without your commitment and dedication MHMS would not have carried out the simulation exercise successfully and more importantly in identifying the existing gaps.  
“I would also like to thank our partners who have also provided the necessary support throughout the exercise.”
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services reminds the public to remain vigilant and continue practicing COVID-19 preventative measures of frequent handwashing with water and soap or hand sanitizer, covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and maintain social distancing of at least one to two meters.  
Meanwhile, Solomon Islands nationals who have been stranded in Fiji and Vanuatu are expected back in the country today on a special Solomon Airlines flight.
Chair of COVID-19 Oversight Committee, James Remobatu, confirmed this on Tuesday.
“Solomon Airlines will be operating special flights to Vanuatu and Fiji purposely to repatriate stranded nationals overseas,” Remobatu said.  
“The first repatriation flight from Brisbane, Australia arrived yesterday afternoon,” he added.
“Passengers include foreign essential government workers, Tina hydro experts, and SOE personnel and diplomats cleared by the Government to enter the country.”    
Remobatu said all nationals who will be boarding these scheduled flights must have valid Solomon Airlines tickets and are encouraged to contact Solomon Airlines Office for ticketing information.
“Foreign nationals wishing to travel to the Solomon Islands require prior approval from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.  
“All passengers will be expected to wear masks throughout the flight and are encouraged to have food and water prior to boarding.  
“The Solomon Islands Government is taking all necessary preventive measures against any potential importation of COVID-19 into the country.  
“It is the Government’s standing health protocol to have all returning passengers from overseas undergoes screening on arrival at Honiara International Airport.  
“A mandatory 28 days’ quarantine and surveillance in one of the State’s identified quarantined facilities is also a requirement.  
“We urge all the stranded nationals to take adequate precautions while being in affected countries and seek immediate medical care in case of sickness.  
“Upon return, all returning passengers both local and foreign nationals must comply with the standard protocols and health requirements put down by the Government.
“Our gratitude to the Government of Fiji and the Government of Vanuatu for looking after our stranded nationals and granting clearance for Solomon Airlines to repatriate Solomon Islands nationals.  
“With the grace of God, we will do all we can to ensure we come out of this stronger and united,” Remobatu said.


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