An expat New Zealander was getting ready for a relaxing BBQ lunch with friends last Sunday when it took a shocking turn with the discovery of a body of a Filipino seaman on the beach in front of his Vanuatu house.
The grim finding has triggered a three-day lockdown in the island of Efate in Vanuatu after the mystery crewman was later confirmed to have Covid-19.
Now John Malcolm and 15 others – mainly police officers who recovered the body – have been put into quarantine in a luxury hotel.
The Kiwi, who has been working as a lawyer in Vanuatu for 30 years, told the Herald he was now in the dark about his enforced quarantine, after he and a friend found the body floating in the water off his Dream Cove beachfront property near Pangos Point last Sunday.
Malcolm said he had been riding his motorbike around Efate with friends earlier in the day when one of his mates, who is a commercial diver, was called to look for a body after reports someone had fallen off a fuel tanker and was under the wharf.
The motorbike club planned to have a BBQ at Malcolm’s house later in the afternoon. As the keen rider made preparations for the gathering a friend spotted the body in the shallows.
“I thought he was taking the piss. I went down with him and sure enough there was a dead body there. So we dragged him out of the water and put a sheet over him….”
They rang the police, who arrived at the house and took the body away.
Malcolm didn’t hear anything more until the following Sunday when people came to his house to conduct a nasal Covid test.
They then returned at 8pm giving him about five minutes to pack clothes and his laptop before whisking him away to the Ramada Hotel in Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital city. His friend who had discovered the body with him had also been relocated there.
Malcolm said he was getting increasingly frustrated about the situation as they had not been told why they were in the hotel or how long he had to stay there for.
“It’s bizarre. If they really seriously want to accuse us of having Covid, they could’ve done it a week and a half ago. I’m furious. I’m locked up in this god damn hotel room. I’m furious with what’s happening.”
He had heard second-hand that his Covid test was negative yet he was still being detained.
“They are not talking to us. I haven’t spoken to anyone since they put me in here. I don’t even know who to ring.”
Malcolm felt the government was acting too slow as he had been in court every day for the past week, but no one had been in touch with him for contact tracing purposes.
“I’ve probably been in contact with half of Port Vila,” he said.
“I’ve been really well looked after physically, it’s not an issue. I don’t want to complain about that, they’re doing a really good job [at the hotel]. I have zero complaints at all. It’s a luxury little room. It’s just – I don’t want to be here.”
The Vanuatu government has confirmed 16 people – mainly Police officers – who attended the scene when the body was discovered are all in quarantine at the Ramada, RNZ reported.
Yesterday, Vanuatu Prime Minister Bob Loughman confirmed the positive case. The island had been closed by land and sea for three days while contact tracing could be carried out, he said.
Loughman said business would operate as usual but asked people to follow the Covid-19 safety protocols such as social distancing.
Director general of health Russell Tamata said the hospital has sufficient test kits for voluntary testing.
The risk of community transmission was low, he said.
The body of the Filipino is still at the mortuary at Vila Central. Fellow crew members of the UK-flagged LPG tanker Inge Kosan noticed he was not on board after they departed from the harbour last Sunday.
Otago University professor of public health at Otago University Nick Wilson said while it was possible the virus could be transferred from objects and surfaces, it was also extremely unlikely as the major route of transmission was through breathing of infected air particles.
Wilson said there were still quite a few unknowns such as the quality of the testing and how long the body was in the water. Depending on the length of time the body had been in the water it could have washed the fragile virus off.
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