Ascension Island Government

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Update on Possible COVID-19 Cases

17 March 2020


No change to advice for Ascension public

At 12:42 today St Helena Government (SHG) issued a public notice informing the St Helena public of St Helena specific measures being taken in response to yesterday’s announcement of the three cases being treated, as a precaution, as possible COVID-19 on Ascension.

This notice made clear that St Helena is taking a different set of actions to that of Ascension. Notably that they are requesting all passengers who were on the SA Airlink plane on Saturday to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether or not they are displaying any symptoms which may be consistent with COVID-19.

It also indicated that the 12 individuals asked to self-isolate as a precaution despite not displaying any symptoms, were seated around the three individuals on the plane who went on to display cold-like symptoms. This is inaccurate. As was noted in the public notice of 16 March 2020, these 12 individuals were asked to self-isolate by the hospital as a precaution, as they had close and prolonged contact with the three persons with cold-like symptoms on the evening of their arrival, after having left the aircraft.

The Ascension Island Government (AIG) is aware that this advice to the Ascension public differs from that being provided by SHG to the St Helena public. Please be clear that this is for the following reasons:

  1. Due to the fact Ascension is wholly reliant on the outside world for essential supplies, and the inability to test on for COVID-19 on island, Ascension has always been making preparations for the ‘delay’ phase of an outbreak rather than the 'prevent' or ‘containment’ phases of a possible outbreak. As such all of our preparedness measures are in place to manage an outbreak effectively, rather than attempt to unrealistically try to prevent the virus ever reaching the island.
  1. St Helena has different circumstances to Ascension and as such they are taking a different approach. St Helena has a larger population and as a consequence a larger at risk community. Ascension is a working island, and whilst we also have at risk members within the community, our plans are adapted to manage an outbreak based on our own factors. As a result St Helena is therefore taking public health measures more aligned to a 'prevent' and ‘containment’ approach rather than that of ‘delay’. They are taking measures they feel are best suited to their individual circumstances. It is important to recognise the islands are in different situations and as such the public health advice is different at this stage.
  1. Ascension has been in constant liaison with Public Health England and authorities in the UK regarding our approach. Given the circumstances specific to Ascension they have agreed our approach is the correct one for our island. As ever, we will keep this under review, but for now there has been no change in the situation on the ground and as such our approach remains the same.
  1. It is important to remember that the identified and isolated individuals have not tested positive for COVID-19, and although efforts are being made to test them, without confirmation of this Ascension is taking a reasonable precautionary approach.

Given this, we continue to advise that passengers who travelled on the SA Airlink on Saturday 14 March should monitor their own health, and if any symptoms develop to go home, self-isolate as a precaution, and telephone the hospital on 66252.

As we remain unable to test for COVID-19 on Ascension these are precautionary measures taken in the interest of public health and will be kept under review.

Notwithstanding these developments the advice to the wider public remains the same, anyone who develops a new persistent dry cough, a fever or experiences unexpected shortness of breath should go home, self-isolate and telephone the hospital on 66252. If the hospital advises you to begin self-isolation measures please ensure you follow their advice carefully.

The three individuals asked to self-isolate were asked to due to displaying very mild cold-like symptoms. At present their conditions are being monitored, with support from hospital staff being provided remotely.