Six more crew members of a Spanish fishing fleet operating in the waters of Seychelles have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to nine, the Department of Health said on Thursday.
The announcement from the health department came after Jude Gedeon, the Public Health Commissioner had announced two new cases earlier in a press conference. He had emphasised the fact that the testing of the new crew members has not finished yet and that once done the Department will give a more complete report latest Saturday.
Around 205 seafarers from western African countries arrived on Tuesday for a crew change for 26 Spanish vessels in the Seychelles' waters.
Gedeon said that as per the protocol in place, "If a person is positive even if there are no symptoms we are not going to let them circulate among other people. We have to put them in isolation and monitor them. When they become negative we will release them."
Meanwhile, Gedeon said that a tool known as a QR (quick response) code will be used once passengers start arriving in Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean.
"You can scan it with your phone and it will lead you directly to a page that will allow you to report if you have symptoms and this links with the surveillance unit. All visitors who will come in will scan this. We are also working with Airtel for an app that will allow us to do better surveillance," said Gedeon.
On his side, the chief executive of the Health Care Agency, Danny Louange, said for the time being "there are 63 people in quarantine – 43 at the Berjaya hotel and at the Coastguard facility we have just received 15 people from Sri Lanka and these were patients and their attendants. The five seafarers who tested positive are in a zone in the Family Hospital."
Louange said the five seafarers do not have symptoms, are not sick and have been placed in the Family Hospital for observation. The four new confirmed cases have also been placed at the same hospital at Perseverance.
"For repatriation, we have a flight arriving today with Seypec marine crew members and on Sunday we will have a flight with people who are stranded in Europe. For the time being there are 75 persons on the flight and this can be revised," he added.
On the question as to what lessons have the Department of Health learnt from the current situation, Gedeon said that it showed that a country can never be prepared enough.
He added that as part of the precaution measures, the Department went through the World Health Organisation (WHO) to look at the laboratories where the tests were being done and ensured that they were accredited to Institut Pasteur.
Public Health Authority requirements necessitated an exit screening, which includes PCR as well as rapid antibody tests for COVID-19, within three days prior to the seafarers' departure from their home countries. All the laboratory results sent to and reviewed by the Authority were negative.
"We spoke to the French ambassador this morning and they are already in contact with the two laboratories to find out how this happened. They believed that there may have been a breach in their quarantine
procedure or the technic used to take samples from the seafarers were not efficient," said Gedeon.