PNG doc ‘cleared’

Dr Maine Asapo, the doctor who was earlier accused of bringing the virus into the Solomon Islands
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THE Papua New Guinea medical doctor, Ma’ine Schmidt Asapo, accused of bringing the covid-19 virus from Tasman to Pelau has been cleared by the Government.

However, Asapo will still face the charge for illegally crossing the international border of PNG and Solomon Islands and breaching the COVID-19 Emergency Order.

The Order is restricting the movement of small craft vessels across the borders.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told the country on 18 January that according to contact tracing information, the index case that brought the infection to Pelau village was the PNG medical doctor.

Asapo hails from Tasman Islands and has traditional ties with the people of Pelau in Malaita Outer Island.

The PNG doctor with nine other people including members of his family crossed the border from Tasman to Pelau on 9 January 2021.

However, Sogavare told the nation-wide address on Sunday that based on the information available at the time, the community outbreak in Honiara was also linked to the doctor that arrived in Pelau but since then, the Ministry of health has undertaken more in-depth analysis of the Covid-19 outbreak in Ontong Java and subsequently the origins of the Community transmission in Honiara with assistance from Solomon Islands Maritime Authority.

He said the Ministry of Health now believes the COVID-19 outbreak in Luaniua had commenced in the first half of December 2022.

“This does now absolve the doctor in question,” he said.

However, Sogavare said the primary issue for the doctor is that he has committed a serious offence by illegally crossing the border from PNG, and he could have also transmitted COVID-19 infections to others in the Pelau community.

He said he (Asapo) will therefore be investigated accordingly.

In relation to the origin of Community transmission in Honiara, Sogavare said the Solomon Islands Maritime Authority provide a record of five vessels that arrived in Honiara from Ontong Java between 16 December 2021 and 10 January 2022 as follows:

  1. MV Liberty III, arrived in Honiara around 16th December 2021
  2. MV Solomon Prestige 2, arrived in Honiara on 21 December 2021 15
  3. MV Ocean Joy, arrived in Honiara on 29 December 2021
  4. Covid banner
  5. MV Carolina, arrived in Honiara on 30 December 2021 5. MV Awka, arrived in Honiara on 10 January 2022

Sogavare said the Ministry of Health has subsequently established that 23 of the 26 crew members of MV Solomon Prestige 2 and most of the crew of MV Awka tested positive for COVID-19.

“It is very likely some of the crews of MV Ocean Joy and MV Carolina would also be positive.

“Based on this new information the Ministry of Health now believes that the COVID-19 hotspots have already started in Honiara before the arrival of MV Awka on 10th January 2021,” Sogavare said.

The Ministry of health has also confirmed that despite the presence of small pockets of COVID-19 hotspots prior to January 10, 2022, the speed of community transmission in Honiara was linked directly to passengers that disembarked from MV Awka on 10th January 2022.

He said the Ministry of Health traced most of the early local out-breaks to the location of the passengers that disembarked from MV Awka.

Meanwhile Sogavare strongly refuted claims the outbreak was linked to the Solomon Islands International Assistance Force that intervened to quell the riots and lootings in late November.

“Let me now put to rest the misinformation on social media platforms attributing the current COVID-19 outbreak to members of the Solomon International Assistance Force.

Every member of the Assistance mission fulfilled or pre-departure requirements before they arrived.

“They were all fully vaccinated, and they all tested negative for COVID-19 prior to arrival.

“During the first 14 days of their deployment in the country, they were tested every 2nd day and they were all negative over the two weeks of testing after arrival.”

Sogavare added: “After the first two weeks they were tested every week and have maintained their negative status throughout, except for one member that was infected by community transmission while in Honiara.

“I ask people responsible for spreading misinformation to stop misinforming the public.”