13 Jan 2023

Tokelau dodges Covid-19 in community after scare at the border

11:56 am on 13 January 2023
A vaccination centre on Nukunonu, August 2021

A vaccination centre on Nukunonu, August 2021 Photo: Government of Tokelau

Tokelauan health officials say they've learned several lessons after the country experienced its first cases of the virus at the border.

All five people who had tested positive have since tested negative and were able to join the community and attend a wedding.

Covid was discovered at the border between December 13 and 18.

"They travelled from Fakaofo (atoll) on the MV Mataliki with passengers from Apia to attend a wedding," the general manager of the Office of Tokelau Aukusitino Vitale said.

"They are three children, a young adult and a 24-year-old female."

All five cases who were in quarantine on Atafu atoll have since been released.

Covid-19-delayed wedding

The Tokelau Government has not established exactly how the virus got to the border.

"We ruled out bringing it from Fakaofo because Fakaofo had a mass RAT testing of their whole population just to see if it was in the community. Atafu did the same," said Vitale.

Fortunately, none of the passengers who travelled on the same overnight boat from Apia tested positive.

"Atafu has a very good layout of the quarantine and isolation. The passengers from Apia quarantined in a hotel on Atafu," Vitale said.

He said the whole wedding party, including the bride, were quarantined.

"The wedding did not go ahead until everybody had been cleared," Vitale said.

The five Covid cases completed 21 days in isolation.

There are just under 500 people each on Fakaofo and Atafu, and everyone tested negative. All Covid-19 cases have since recovered meaning Tokelau is the last country in the world alongside Turkmenistan not to experience the virus in the community.

Tokelau is unique and "errs on the extreme side" of caution, Vitale said.

Border restrictions remain in place since they were implemented in April 2020.

Lessons learnt

After managing to do what other countries have failed at - stamping the virus out - Vitale says a lot has been learnt.

"The issue for us, actually, is the number of people who are getting positive in Samoa on their 48-hour PCR screening before they come to Tokelau, and there's quite a few, including crew members," he said.

New health advice is being prepared to present to council members. It will include a suggestion on a CT value (cycle threshold) to be issued which will determine how much virus is present and if a person is contagious or fit to travel.

"You know, there are historical cases and sometimes the virus is in you, but it's not contagious. So health is now looking at providing a CT level that would be approved. I understand it's 40," Vitale said.

With a crew shortage in Samoa, having a handful of people including crew members test positive before a trip has been frustrating for Tokelau officials.

"We're just waiting on the full report from Atafu, especially from the medical officers on any technical learning that we should to align our plan in the management of positive cases, given that we've had that experience," he said.

Grateful for hard work of locals

"We were very grateful to the health staff, particularly Dr Moetagi, who is actually a Tokelau daughter who married a Tongan.

"Her husband is also a medical officer. They've decided to come to Tokelau and we've benefited with the knowledge," Vitale said.

He said the three village hospitals, health staff in Apia, and the Acting Director of Health, Sene Kerisiano, all played key roles in the "excellent management" of the first positive cases.

Vitale applauds the community for its response which means Tokelau remains one of only two countries in the world to not have experienced community transmission.