I was recently informed that the Solomon Islands nurses who are stranded in Vanuatu, or Freswota 1 to be exact, are here because the Solomon Islands government has a quarantine limit similar to Vanuatu, while ours is 120 per quarantine, Solomons must be around the same amount which is why their flight schedule has been adjusted four times over.

If this is the reason, then it is out of the Vanuatu government’s control. Sure, we could’ve applied in advance but now with the pandemic, we don’t just have the normal bureaucratic red-tape, this has been amplified out of fear of the new strands of COVID-19 entering a country so the process of exiting a country and re-entering another is a nightmare.

Many of the expats who are attempting to leave the country can attest to this, you have to through Foreign Affairs, then they liaise with Health while your Airline is sitting patiently in the corner, there’s a bit of back and forth with the two Ministries before you get the green light. The days of booking a flight online and leaving the next day are over, this is the new process, at least until COVID leaves or we reach worldwide inoculation, both I reckon are impossible.

So, repatriating a handful of nurses at the right time rests on good communication with both states plus open communication with the Ministry of Health and the nurses. There wouldn’t be a reason to make such a big fuss out of the Solomon Island nurses’ situation if they were well informed, provided the proper allowances and showed the gratitude they deserve for serving Vanuatu’s greatest resource – its people.

They were under contract in a foreign country, if there is a nation that understands this the most it’s us. In January this year we sent 900 workers to New Zealand under the RSE programme. NZ capped the number of workers off at 2000 and we absorbed 45% of that figure, close to 1000 workers under contracts in a foreign country. What if those contracts expired and the host didn’t provide any food allowance for over a month? Would the argument of COVID-19 compliance issues with flights and changing quarantine dates justify that?

Let’s look at it from a larger scale, we don’t have COVID-19, but we know that this status could change anytime we receive a repatriation flight, hence the trainings our frontliners have been doing.

If we jeopardize this relationship with Solomon Islands nurses, they wouldn’t want to come to Vanuatu anymore and the truth is we need their assistance and service, especially once Vanuatu records its first community transmission. So, the Ministry of Health needs to start mending bridges and communicate clearly with the nurses. Apologize to the nurses and their families, thank those who have donated food and supplies and extend an apology to the government of Solomon Islands.

Let’s not wait to get a case before we start saying sorry, they are our guests, they are our responsibility.

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