Samoa shuts down entire government after measles outbreak kills 53 people

Kate Ng
Masked children wait to be vaccinated at a health clinic in Apia, Samoa: AP

The measles epidemic in Samoa has prompted a government shutdown, with public servants enlisted to help implement the nation’s mass vaccination campaign.

Samoa's prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, announced that all public and government services, except the water and electrical power authorities, will close on Thursday and Friday.

Fifty three people have died as a result of the measles crisis, with 48 of them children under four years old, according to a government update on Monday.

Official numbers show that more than 50 percent of an estimated 29,000 children between 6 months and four years of age – identified as the most vulnerable group – have yet to be vaccinated.

As of Monday, 3,728 cases had been confirmed, with 198 new cases recorded on Sunday alone.

In total, about 58,000 people have been vaccinated since the mass vaccination campaign rolled out on 20 November, ABC News reported.

The outbreak is believed to have started in New Zealand, with cases confirmed in other neighbouring countries including Australia, Tonga, and Fiji.

The Samoan government has cracked down on false information about vaccinations because this is believed to have compounded the spread of the disease.

Authorities said two men were questioned after members of the public filed complaints that they were promoting alternative treatments through social media.

Mr Malielegaoi said: “Let us work together to encourage and convince those who do not believe that vaccinations are the only answer to the epidemic.

“Let us not be distracted by the promise of alternative cures. Measles is not a new disease to Samoa and rarely claimed lives,” he added.

The New Zealand Herald reports that parents have been instructed to keep their children at home and away from large public gatherings such as church mass and Christmas events.

Australia and New Zealand have sent medical assistance to Samoa to support local hospitals.

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