Samoa’s First Covid-19 Case Travelled to the US and Back during Height of Coronavirus Pandemic

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A senior doctor has revealed that Samoa’s first and so far only official case of Covid-19 who arrived into Samoa with his mother as repatriated citizens in February 2021, had actually travelled from Samoa to the US just two months prior, in December 2020.

The Clinical Director of the National Kidney Foundation and former Director of Clinical Services for Samoa, Leituala Dr Ben Matalavea has taken to social media to express his disappointment that Samoa had been exposed to unnecessary risk by people freely travelling during lockdown; calling the decision dangerous and irresponsible, asking why and how it was allowed to happen.

“I’m unbelievably astounded that this 16 year old and family were allowed to leave our country, travelled all the way to the most dangerous covid infected country the USA, in December 2020, and allowed back to our country within 3 months at the height of the covid pandemic..,” writes Leituala.

A government press release confirmed at the time, “The 16-year old Samoan national travelled with his mother from California and transited through New Zealand on Wednesday 10th February for 26 hours before arriving in Samoa on Friday 12th February 2021 on flight NZ990”.

NZ990 from Los Angeles was the first and much awaited and anticipated repatriation flight from the US since the closure of international borders in March 2020.

After 22 days of isolation and the application of strict health protocols the 16 year old was free to enter the community which did cause panic to some citizens when the young man was sighted playing a round of golf.

That is when his father, Mr Gary Vui, on a public post dated 23 March, revealed the name of Samoa’s first official case, who had always been reported as “the 16 Year Old Boy” in order to protect the young man’s identity.

“I write to advise the public of Samoa the “16 year old boy” the Health Department had Covid was our son Lio..”, writes Mr Vui. (See full post below).

Dr Matalavea says he has no problems with the boy now fully recovered and able to re-enter the community. He also says he has nothing personal toward the family, but is questioning why they were able to travel out of Samoa and back in again, during the mandatory lockdown imposed for the protection of all citizens.

In taking his questions and concerns public, Doctor Matavalea highlights the thousands of Samoans, unable to freely travel and be with family during faalavelave such as parents’ funerals, over the past 12 months of lockdown protocols.

“I remember this day well Dec 12 2020,” writes the doctor. “It was when my mother passed away and none of my siblings and family from overseas were allowed to attend her funeral. I’m sure hundreds if not thousands of Samoans were denied entry to our country due to the pandemic..” says Leituala who then asks the additional question, “Who in our beaurocracy allowed this to happen?”

“I really want to know because I’m feeling for all those who wanted to come home yet they are waitlisted for so long and yet this happens,” says Leituala.

Asked for a comment Samoa’s Director General of Health said their role in the frontline is to protect Samoa’s borders upon the arrival of repatriated citizens and he was unaware the boy had travelled from Samoa to the US, in December 2020.

Samoa’s National Emergency Operations Centre have been asked for a comment. However, the NEOC has made it clear through previous press releases  that State of Emergency Orders prohibits any citizen from short term travel, with hefty fines imposed if caught. Such citizens would also need to pay isolation costs in full.

Mr Gary Vui was also asked for a comment.

This is a developing story as responses come in.

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Post by Leituala Dr Ben Matalavea, 2 April 2021

The 16yr old Samoan who travelled from the US in Feb of this year 2021 and tested positive with covid 19 is no longer a secret. He has been revealed by his father in the Samoa Observer last week. Consequently the father blamed everyone for treating his son unjustifiably due to him being tested positive. . All good. Can’t argue with that. However I’m unbelievably astounded that this 16 yr old and family were allowed to leave our country travelled all the way to the most dangerous covid infected country the USA in December 2020 and allowed back to our country within 3 months at the height of the covid pandemic. I remember this day well Dec 12 2020. It was when my mother passed away and none of my siblings and family from overseas were allowed to attend her funeral. I’m sure hundreds if not thousands of Samoans were denied entry to our country due to the pandemic. No offense intended for the family. All I want to know as a member of the public is how can this family be allowed to leave Samoa in December 2020 at the height of the pandemic and allowed back to our country within 3 months as if nothing is happening. I want to know because my family brothers and sister were unable to attend my mom’s funeral due to restrictions of travel from NZ and Australia . So I want to know why. Is there a different rule for certain people to travel putting our country at risk? So the additional question is who in our beaurocracy allowed this to happen.
Is there corruption involved?
I really want to know because I’m feeling for all those who wanted to come home yet they are wait listed for so long and yet this happens. The consequences of this selfish and thoughtless action by the authorities had compromised the government’ the immigration the foreign affairs the national emergency committee and the MOH. It’s dangerous and no regard for anybody but the selfish adults responsible. I really want to know. 😓

Post by 16 Year Old Boy’s Father, 23 March 2021 

The Editor
In regards to the above I write to advise the public of Samoa the “16 year old boy” the Health Department had Covid was our son Lio.
I am putting out this impassioned message as a father and on behalf of his mother,

I wish to also advise the public after 22 days in TOTAL ISOLATION in a hospital room, with NO fresh air or outside exposure, then 14 more days SELF isolation at our home, he has been FULLY CLEARED of Covid!!!! He was FULLY CLEARED on Saturday the 19th of March to resume normal activities with some requirements, requirements ALL QUARANTINED people are requested follow for 14 days.

During the time of his isolation/s Lio had NO SYMPTOMS of any sort that are supposed with Covid, NONE…. or any other illnesses..

After being FULLY CLEARED last Saturday, on Monday he went out to golf, his love and passion and his possible future as a golf professional, “to practice on his own”, “away from others” and after 36 days not being able to play or practice he was obviously excited.
Unfortunately and sadly people on social media attacked him and us with hateful, spiteful comments without the facts, just assuming he had broken Health Department protocols and rules by being there.!!

Emotions understandably get high during times we are experiencing now in Samoa and the world.. and when Media spread news about a case such as this and ALL the facts are not out there in a timely fashion for whatever reason sadly Social media as it is has so many experts who are hateful and spiteful people who make comments based on conjecture and misinformation.

When you live in a country as small as ours it is sad that HATE is aimed at a 16 year old boy who is NOT a criminal, has broken NO LAWS, has followed ALL of the HEALTH DEPARTMENT protocols, as stressful as they were, he has been fully CLEARED.

ALL WE RESPECTFULLY ask is get the FACTS, ALL of the facts before you HATEFULLY AND in this case WRONGLY comment…. your HATEFUL comments are aimed an IMPRESSIONABLE GROWING HEALTHY NON CONTAGIOUS NON COVID 16 year old…. he would NOT be out of quarantine if he were not cleared, we would not break any Health Department protocols or put others any danger, for people to think this is so SMALL MINDED and typical of HATE filled people!!
To those who ignorantly have made or will make hateful/spiteful unwarranted comments aimed at him, shame on you.

We understand that everyone is concerned about getting Covid, the Health Department and government are doing their best to ensure Samoa is free of Covid “and are doing extremely well to date”, which obviously included our son’s isolation etc…

Unfortunately he will live out his days being supposedly the first Covid case in Samoa, that STIGMA will be with him forever.

I know this message will fall on many deaf ears, people will continue to HATE and comment negatively, sadly that is human nature, but I want to put it out there, OUR son IS 100% CLEARED, he had NO SYMPTOMS of any illness before, during and after his LOCK DOWN, was not contagious but tested positive so he was isolated.

If you want to spread hate filled messages please send them to me on fb or email..I expect a lot of negativity after this message gets out there, so be it, but please not our INNOCENT son.

It would be wonderful to live in a hate free world, sadly we don’t, believe me I am far from perfect,, I/we will not judge the haters, we will leave that to Heavenly Father, but I would like to get FACTS and TRUTH out there… from our perspective…
like any father would I will PROTECT MY FAMILY as I am sure ALL out there would/do hence this message..

HUMBLY and RESPECTFULLY, LOVE and GOD is what Samoa is raised on, NOT hate….

We pray for our HEAVENLY FATHERS forgiveness for all of our sins and may he BLESS all of Samoa and our people during these trying and stressful times..

God Bless