Corona rumours dispelled

Namport speaks out on Covid-19

13 March 2020 | Health

Walvis Bay •[email protected]


The Namibian Ports Authority (Namport) said allegations that the AIDAmira passenger vessel currently berthed in Walvis Bay had positive coronavirus (Covid-19) cases on board, are not true.

Namport acting chief executive Kavin Harry said that each passenger was tested before they disembarked from the vessel. He also refuted rumours that the vessel was denied entry to Angolan ports.

“This is not true; this specific vessel only operates between Namibia and South Africa, more specifically the ports of Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London, Lüderitz and Walvis Bay.”

He said that the decision to allow vessels to enter Namibian ports does not solely lie with Namport.
At the briefing it was also explained that if a positive corona case is discovered on board a vessel, that person would be quarantined on board and would not be allowed to disembark until the health ministry takes over.

Operations manager of MSC Cruises Namibia, Monolito du Toit, said that no passenger is allowed to board or leave any vessel unless a thermal screen has been done.

“There are additional questionnaires and tests done before boarding as well. This was implemented worldwide. Guests that are flagged, will be quarantined on board and the relevant authorities will be notified. High risk areas on board a vessel are sanitised more than usual, while high risk items such as books and board games have been removed.”

“Our vessels have state of the art hospitals, doctors and medical staff on board, as well as medication and the necessary equipment. The number of medical staff on board cruise liners has also been increased. The idea is to make sure that no one is infected on board. Passengers go through random screenings while on board as well.”

He said that majority of the passengers on board the AIDAmira are South African, and that country has not been affected by the coronavirus on a large scale in comparison to other countries.

‘One day at a time’

Another ten passenger liners are scheduled to call at the port of Walvis Bay within the next two months.

“Depending on our risk assessment, a final decision will be made to allow the vessels in our port or not. This is not our call to make alone. If MSC deems the risk as too high, as well as the ministry of health, we will take action. Now we are taking it one day at a time.”

Harry said that the mandate to screen and approve vessels before they come into the port, rests with the ministry of health and social services.

“Namport cannot take over a vessel before it has been cleared by the ministry. All foreign vessels calling at the port are required to forward a list of the last ten ports of call along with other required maritime documentation to Namport, the department of maritime affairs and the ministry of health.”

He said that if the list includes countries that are affected by coronavirus, additional information must be forwarded to all relevant authorities. “This information includes crew lists, vaccination lists and good clearance certificates. Based on all relevant information received, the ministry of health will decide if the vessel may enter the port.

“Once a vessel has been cleared and granted access to enter the port and dock, the Namport marine pilots will be the only staff allowed to board the vessel, ahead of health officials.”

Procedures

As per Namport’s procedures, pilots are required to wear protective clothing when boarding vessels. Once a vessel is docked, the health officer will board the vessel, verify the documentation and do a physical screening of all crew and passengers.

Only once the officer is satisfied, will other parties be allowed to board, like customs, port security and immigration.

“In the event that there is a positive coronavirus case aboard the vessel, the ministry will decide if the vessel can enter the port, or if it should be kept on anchor outside the port. This decision will be done in accordance with the country’s contingency plan. Namport does not have a role to play in that decision.

He added that only health officials are allowed to evacuate positive coronavirus cases, and be taken to the isolation facility, which is situated at the Walvis Bay state hospital. “The officials will let us and all other relevant authorities know the way forward. This applies to all vessels across the world.”

Official statement

The ministry of health and social services’ executive director Ben Nangombe released a statement regarding the AIDAmira, saying the ship docked in Lüderitz on 11 March with 1 629 people on board, including 427 crew members.

“According to district environmental practitioner Ms. Haludilu who is assigned to Port Health at Lüderitz, all passengers on the vessel were screened before they set foot on Namibian soil. None of them had a temperature reading of above 38°C. Their temperatures were taken before being allowed to proceed to immigration. The vessel later proceeded to Walvis Bay, where it arrived on 12 March 2020. Since all passengers had already been screened at Lüderitz, no screening was deemed necessary at Walvis Bay.”

The ministry reminded travellers that health screenings are mandatory, and that a health declaration is to be completed upon arrival at all Namibian points of entry. This allows health authorities to contact travellers and their contacts, should the need arise.

Nangombe said that no incidences of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Namibia at this stage.

“All official and authenticated information about the Covid-19 outbreak are to be and will be communicated through the ministry to ensure the nation is adequately and correctly informed. The public is advised to cease and desist from distributing unverified information that has the potential to cause public panic, alarm and consternation,” Nangombe said.

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