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Coronavirus: Falkland Islands brace for first COVID-19 case | UK Information

Concern is growing on the Falkland Islands that their first cases of coronavirus could be confirmed this week.

A child is critically ill with suspected COVID-19 and is being treated at a small hospital in Stanley, the capital of the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

The remote archipelago does not have any coronavirus testing kits
Image:
The remote archipelago does not have any coronavirus testing kits

A number of other islanders are self-isolating with symptoms.

Complicating the situation, the Falkland Islands authorities do not have any coronavirus testing kit. It means all samples have to be flown to the UK, some 8,000 miles away.

“At the moment we are blind,” said Leona Roberts, a member of the Legislative Assembly.

“We don’t know whether we have the virus here. There is a very strong suspicion that we do. We have a child who was hospitalised with suspected coronavirus.”

Even the limited ability to fly samples to the UK for testing ran into trouble earlier this month.

A Royal Air Force airbridge that links the Falklands to the UK had to be temporarily suspended because Cape Verde – a cluster of 10 islands in the mid-Atlantic off the west coast of Africa – decided to stop allowing the Voyager aircraft to transit back and forth through its territory to refuel amid coronavirus fears.

Efforts by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence to find an alternative transit point eventually secured a route via Senegal.

It means the twice-weekly airbridge between RAF Brize Norton air base in Oxfordshire, England, and RAF Mount Pleasant, the military airfield in the Falklands, has restarted, with the first flight landing in the Falklands on Friday afternoon.

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But the sudden pause added to the sense of anxiety gripping the archipelago.

Ms Roberts said people had been particularly alarmed that the first patient to be hospitalised because of suspected coronavirus is a child.

“It is very difficult at this stage without having the test results. It is very worrying,” she told Sky News.

“The UK government has expressed a commitment to support the islands, they are trying to expedite some testing kit for us and medication as well. We are hopeful.”

While the airbridge was suspended, a number of charter flights did land in the Falklands to repatriate hundreds of cruise ship passengers from around the world who had been forced to abandon ship and seek refuge on the territory because of the coronavirus crisis.

Some possible coronavirus samples were sent on to the UK on at least one of these charter flights to be tested, with the results expected by the middle of this coming week.

Even without confirmation, the authorities have imposed strict new measures on islanders to try to stop any further spread of the disease in case worst fears are realised.

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The Islands have just one civilian hospital – the King Edward Memorial Hospital

All schools and nurseries closed on Friday until at least the start of the new term in May and everyone has been told to stay at home except for doing essential activities and those deemed as critical workers.

Barry Rowland, chief executive of the Falkland Islands, said anyone who has been asked to self-isolate because they have flu-like symptoms and a fever, must do so with everyone in their household for 14 days.

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“These actions are essential to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable, and ensure that the demand on the health service is limited,” he said.

“The situation will be kept under constant review. It could change, and, when test results are known, we may step up, or scale back some restrictions.”

For a community of little over 3,000 people surrounded by the South Atlantic, the Falkland Islanders are used to isolation, but these will be particularly worrying times.

About a sixth of the population is classed as high-risk, mainly those over 70 with underlying health conditions.

The only civilian hospital – the King Edward Memorial Hospital – has limited bed capacity and ventilators.

The authorities will likely draw on support from a large British military presence – a by-product of the Falklands War in 1982 when Argentina invaded and had to be fought back.

Today, some 1,300 British military personnel are stationed at the Mount Pleasant base, supported by hundreds of civilian contractors.

Argentina has also offered support, telling Britain’s ambassador to Buenos Aires that it was ready to send shipments of food, medical supplies and coronavirus test kits to the Falklands.

Foreign Minister Felipe Sola even said his country could provide medical care for infected patients.

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