Samoa shuts down as authorities battle deadly measles outbreak
Red flags hang outside the homes of those who have not been vaccinated.
Samoa has begun a two-day shutdown as the government tries to curb a measles epidemic that has killed 62 people.
The government told most public and private workers to stay at home on Thursday and Friday and shut down roads to non-essential vehicles as teams began going door to door to administer vaccines.
Families in the Pacific island nation were asked to hang red flags from their houses if they needed to be vaccinated.
Most of those who have died from the virus are young, with 54 deaths among children aged four or younger.
The Samoa Observer newspaper said the normally bustling capital Apia was a ghost town on Thursday, with only birds nesting in the rooftops and stray dogs roaming the streets.
Prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told reporters the vaccine drive was unprecedented in the nation’s history.
“They seem to take a kind of lackadaisical attitude to all the warnings that we had issued through the television and also through the radio,” he said.
— Government of Samoa (@samoagovt) December 4, 2019
Latest update: 4,217 measles cases have been reported since the outbreak with 165 recorded in the last 24 hours. To date, 62 measles related deaths have been recorded.
VACCINATION UPDATE: Graphic uploaded below - as of 4 December 2019. pic.twitter.com/6ESetgwEQR
Another challenge, he said, was that others had been seeking help from traditional healers, who had been successfully treating tropical diseases in Samoa for some 4,000 years.
“Some of our people pay a visit to traditional healers thinking that measles is a typical tropical disease, which it is not,” the prime minister said.
Samoan authorities believe the virus was first spread by a traveller from New Zealand.
The nation declared a national emergency last month and mandated that all 200,000 people get vaccinated.
— Government of Samoa (@samoagovt) December 3, 2019
In response to the current measles outbreak, the @samoagovt will be undertaking a ‘Door to door Mass Vaccination Campaign’ on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th December, 2019 from 7am to 5pm throughout the whole country.
Read full notice at https://t.co/8OUn9cD33D pic.twitter.com/cjVBfaeumu
The government has also closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings.
According to the government, more than 4,000 people have contracted the disease since the outbreak began and 172 people remain in hospitals, including 19 children in critical condition.
Figures from the World Health Organisation and Unicef indicate that fewer than 30% of Samoan infants were immunised last year.
This low rate was exacerbated by a medical mishap that killed two babies who were administered a vaccine that had been incorrectly mixed, causing wider delays and distrust in the vaccination program.