The Falklands weekly Penguin News this week published a summary of releases, decisions, recommendations and overall strategy of the Islands facing, as in the rest of the world the challenge of Covid 19. The big news is that the Falklands until this week, had no positive tested cases of the virus and that so far there is sufficient health care capacity and expertise to face the situation.
This despite the fact, the Falklands do not have at the moment the facilities to analyze whether a suspicious case is positive.
The adverse news is for Year 11 students since the GCSE Cambridge exams have been suspended, although this is a decision that applies worldwide, and equally significant medical evacuations have been drastically limited to life risk situations, because of the closing of frontiers in South American countries.
Falklands are following closely WHO and Public Health England recommendations, including keeping open borders.
Head of Emergency Planning, Kate Cochrane, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Becky Edwards, Attorney General Simon Young and the commander of BFSAI, Brigadier Nick Sawyer are quoted on the situation, on their respective responsibilities.
In effect due to COVID-19, UK exam boards have confirmed they will not run GCSEs and are working with stakeholders to plan a methodology for awarding grades, Executive Head Teacher Karen Steen told Penguin News on Thursday.
However she said, ”iGCSE (Cambridge) have said that they will run a 2020 series of iGCSE exams.
At FICS iGCSE are studied in Geography, Computing, Music and Physical Education. iGCSE English at FICS is the iGCSE EdExcel course, we are seeking clarification as to whether or not they will run an iGCSE exam series in 2020. As soon as we know more information we will communicate to parents in a timely manner. FICS have briefed Year 11 students and have told them that we will continue to teach the syllabi and complete course work where required.
Sports clubs have been asked to consider that medical evacuations will be limited. People with trauma injuries for example will have to be treated in the Falklands, due to borders of South American countries being closed due to COVID-19 Falkland Islands Hockey responded on Facebook Wednesday by postponing the 2020 season.
They announced: We have today been advised by the Chief Medical Officer and the Government emergency advisor that activities with a higher risk of injury, including hockey, should postpone activities for a period of time.
This is not due to the risk of directly spreading COVID-19, but is because of limited medevac capabilities which are now only available for life-threatening conditions. Lesser injuries, such as complicated broken bones, will now only be able to be treated on island without the specialist treatment that you can access with a medevac. Additionally treating these injuries will potentially take away hospital resources from those who may need critical care in the coming weeks as the COVID- 19 situation develops.
The Museum closed its doors on March 18 as members of their staff fall under the 'high risk' category. Fears regarding the spread of COVID-19 have led to the cancelling of the Saturday Parkrun, the SCB marathon and Pastfinders.
The Shack has closed. The Referendum will still go ahead.
LegCo and ExCo
A number of issues relating to COVID-19 were discussed by Legislative Assembly and Executive Council this week.
A statement was due to be released on Thursday, however it was delayed. Penguin News will upload further information onto their website and Facebook page when it becomes available.
Issues discussed this week included:
• Further preparations by the health service to handle cases
• Planning for care of remote populations.
• Medevacs and overseas medical treatment.
• Welfare measures to support those people who might find it challenging to cease work because of self-isolation requirements.
• Falkland Island Government policy around such issues as sick leave, and annual leave.
• Steps to work with business around issues they will face from COVID-19.
On Tuesday the Falkland Islands Government announced that all passengers arriving in the Falkland Islands by air were expected to isolate themselves for a period of 14 days, if they develop symptoms after arrival which brings them within the following description of a suspect case, and to call KEMH on 28000 for advice.”
The decision caused some controversy, with members of the public expressing thoughts on Facebook indicating they would prefer all people arriving on flights to self isolate for two weeks. Almost 200 people responded positively to an open letter from a resident to MLAs to implement such a policy.
A suspect case was listed as:
A person with a fever and one or more of the following symptoms: cough and shortness of breath (when they had no other reason to explain those symptoms).
Government strongly recommended that in light of growing international border restrictions, foreign nationals seeking to leave the Falkland Islands did so on Wednesday's Latam flight.
The Falklands Government stated that they continued to follow the World Health Organization guidance that to close borders would be ineffective, and in fact hamper needed assistance, such as medical support.
• All those on board had been on board for a minimum of 10 days, and
• No-one on board was suffering from symptoms consistent with them being a “suspect case” for COVID-19, according to the WHO definition.
Cruise vessels will be permitted to disembark passengers only for the purposes of allowing those passengers to return home in accordance with arrangements agreed between the Operator and the Falkland Islands Government, for example by direct charter flight, noted a press release from FIG on Tuesday.
In relation to other vessels – calls into the Falkland Islands of other vessels (such as cargo vessels and fishing vessels, and passenger vessels with no passengers on board) are to be permitted, provided no-one on board is a suspect case.
Disembarkation would only be allowed in very limited and specified circumstances.
Mount Pleasant and Airbridge
Brigadier Nick Sawyer, Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands has stated he is committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of all their personnel and the population of the Falkland Islands.
He said on Wednesday: The priority for BFSAI is to maintain the medical support function available on the Falkland Islands and to minimize the risk of vulnerable persons in the emerging outbreak of COVID-19.
He said BFSAI was dedicated to maintaining the South Atlantic Airbridge (SAA) and continuing the link for essential life support and medical supplies.
If Cape Verde were to close their border (it did this week) there are contingency plans in place to ensure the SAA can still be maintained he assured.
He added: As a precaution and in line with the direction from the UK Government all non-essential movement outside the MPC base location is to be minimized until further notice. Visits to BFSAI have been halted, with only operationally vital appointments going ahead.
Avoid MPC welfare facilities
He said in the interests of minimizing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 BFSAI have requested that Falkland Islands residents stay away from the welfare facilities such as Cinema, Bowling Alley at MPC and the Gym at Hillside. Blue ZUB Pass holders will not be able to access MPC on non-flight days.
Monday press conference
Falklands media were called to a press conference on Monday where the Head of Emergency Planning Kate Cochrane outlined the Infectious Diseases Plan and its various stages. The Falklands is currently in the planning and preparation phase since no cases have been identified.
Chief Medical Officer Edwards said there, “were many different ways to skin a cat when it comes to trying to contain and control a viral pandemic in your region,” with different countries taking different approaches.
She said what was important was that the Falklands follow the best advice and guidance from Public Health England and the World Health Organization, and at the moment the Falklands would not shut the borders down.
She said they were continuing to push home the message that people, if they become ill overseas, self-isolate in the Falklands, and if they become unwell to contact the hospital.
She indicated there was no point asking everyone to self isolate because often it was impossible to tell if someone was infected or not.
Attorney General Simon Young added: “Obviously we have seen countries across the world stances changing on a day by day basis as the situation evolves and we will be no different to that…”
He said it was quite likely that the Falklands current travel advice would change over the coming days.
Responding to stories of COVID- 19 test kits Dr Edwards said although different platforms for testing for COVID-19 had been developed she was not aware there were any bedside point of care test kits available in any countries.
It was explained that testing is normally centralized and large laboratories used for analysis. Dr Edwards felt that testing within the Falklands could happen in the future once testing was made more accessible.
She acknowledged that having to wait for test results would “cause a time lag, of course we will be playing catch up which is why it is so important that if you are advised to isolate at home then you isolate at home … Because we can’t refute or confirm the diagnosis instantly.”
She also confirmed there was public health ordinance around quarantining, “but at the moment we would hope and expect that people would act responsibly in a way to try and protect all of our community.”
Mr Young said they were looking to see if they should make some “more stringent provisions” to “enhance the powers that are already available in relation to enforcin quarantine, particularly in relation to suspected cases…”
On the matter of sick leave, sick pay and people being asked to self isolate, who may need to go to work but can’t, Dr Edwards said this was being examined but it was not her place to talk about it at this stage, “suffice to say we have thought about it, we’re not just making it up as we go along, we’ve been in discussions with the Social Service Department.
There will be a financial knock on from this of course because there will be people who will need to be off work as time goes on and we may ask people to stay off work for some considerable amounts of time…”
Dr Edwards explained that the point of self isolation is that you shouldn’t come into contact with other people – albeit with your family it was difficult she acknowledged. She said if you have someone acutely ill in your family, we have guidance to share with people to help them stay away from infecting them.” She said a person could go into their gardens or go for a drive as long as you do not have contact with other people and if nobody else is using your car.
High risk groups
She said statistics had been gathered examining who they felt were the high risk groups including the elderly with diabetes, heart disease and smokers and they would eventually be contacting those people. They have also examined how to continue to care for patients in the community district nursing care and how to manage the patients on the ward, we are not inactive but we are not in a position yet to share a lot of the details. Not because they are secret but because we need to decide and to flesh them out properly first.”
Dr Edwards said: We are not in a situation in the Falklands yet where we need to start cancelling gatherings of people, however she added that could change very quickly and almost certainly will in the future.
Dr Edwards said a great deal of work had gone in to carefully planning what was needed but ultimately what they had was an educated view on what we are likely to need, where we are likely to need to target the care and yes part of that is looking at our kit, ventilators for example, we’ve looked at what we might need and what we’ve got and we’ve ordered appropriately and we hope we won’t ever need them.
Flatten the curve
Simon Young said the rate of infection could be quite steep... if we don't put any control measures in place and what we are trying to do is flatten that curve by making sure people take responsible action. Making sure you wash your hands and making sure you isolate when asked to.”
He said it was important to keep the number of patients within the capacity of the health care system, by delaying and managing the rate. At the same time they hoped to raise the capacity of the health service. (Penguin News)