Covid-19 testing lab on way from NZ to remote Tokelau

Source: 1News

People on remote Tokelau are expecting the imminent arrival of custom-made laboratory containers that will enable them to check and test for Covid-19 on the territory.

By Elena Pasilio

The laboratory setup consists of two shipping containers containing a GeneXpert testing system, sterilisation kits, air-conditioning and a range of equipment needed for the testing process.

Administrator of Tokelau Ross Ardern says New Zealand decided to send the laboratory so “Tokelau can have a state-of-the-art laboratory for not only testing Covid-19, but other viruses as well”.

The containers are currently on their way to Tokelau via Samoa, and proper training for the use of the laboratory and equipment will be given to medical staff on the island.

Tokelau, a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand, is the only South Pacific territory that does not yet have GeneXpert.

“It will give results quite quickly,” said Mr Ardern.

“Whereas if we didn’t have the device in Tokelau, then those samples will have to come to New Zealand, and of course the journey of distance will work against us.”

Tokelau’s Director of Health Dr Silivia Tavite says Tokelau is very appreciative of New Zealand’s help to their pandemic response.

“Tokelau, to date, continues to be Covid-19 free and there is a sense of relaxation in our local communities. But there is a real need for Tokelau to complete appropriate preparations and build resilience as Covid-19 is here to stay,” Dr Silivia said.

Tokelau’s borders closed to returning passengers in April but have since reopened and had their first repatriation sailing on July 27.

The territory’s only form of international transport is a ship between Samoa and Tokelau and, during the border closure, trips were restricted to cargo-only sailings, delivering food and necessities.

Tokelau is made up of three atolls – Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu – which are hours apart from each other and rely on an inter-atoll vessel for transportation.

There is a Covid-19 monitoring team currently travelling between the three atolls to review progress in preparations as the communities await further news about the labs and border situation.

Dr Silivia says authorities will review the Tokelau border closure rules in October and decide on the best way forward.

The laboratory will be based on Nukunonu which is where Tokelau’s National Referral Hospital is located and will cater to the medical needs of all three atolls.

* Elena Pasilio is a resident of Tokelau and is currently studying journalism at Wintec in Hamilton.