Lessons from COVID-19-free Vanuatu: intensive health operations for Phase 1 of repatriation and quarantine, May–July 2020
International borders to Vanuatu closed on 23 March 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. In May–July 2020, the Government of Vanuatu focused on the safe and timely return of citizens and residents while ensuring Vanuatu remained COVID-19 free. Under Phase 1 of repatriation, between 27 May and 23 June 2020, 1522 people arrived in the capital, Port Vila, and were placed in compulsory government-mandated 14-day quarantine in 15 hotels. Pre-arrival health operations included collection of repatriate information, quarantine facility assessments, training for personnel supporting the process, and tabletop and functional exercises with live scenario simulations. During quarantine, health monitoring, mental health assessments and psychosocial support were provided. All repatriates completed 14 days of quarantine. One person developed symptoms consistent with COVID-19 during quarantine but tested negative. Overall health operations were considered a success despite logistical and resource challenges.
Lessons learnt were documented during a health sector after-action review held on 22 July 2020. Key recommendations for improvement were to obtain timely receipt of repatriate information before travel, limit the number of repatriates received and avoid the mixing of “travel cohorts”, ensure sufficient human resources are available to support operations while maintaining other essential services, establish a command and control structure for health operations, develop training packages and deliver them to all personnel supporting operations, and coordinate better with other sectors to ensure health aspects are considered. These recommendations were applied to further improve health operations for subsequent repatriation and quarantine, with Phase 2 commencing on 1 August 2020.
World Health Organization. 2020a. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Situation Report 194 (01 August 2020).
World Health Organization. 2020b. Surveillance strategies for COVID-19 human infection (10 May 2020).
Vanuatu Health Technical Advisory Group. 2020. Recommendations on measures to prevent, contain and respond to COVID-19 in Vanuatu, version 5.1 (21 July 2020).