What is the Vanuatu Outbreak Alert System?
The Vanuatu Outbreak Alert System (VOAS) informs the public about outbreaks or increases of communicable diseases.
VOAS has four alert levels:
- Level 0: Low
- Level 1: Medium
- Level 2: High
- Level 3: Very high
Each level describes the measures that members of the public need to take based on the risk level. Levels are set by the Ministry of Health. The public must follow the appropriate measures indicated.
VOAS was developed in 2021 to support COVID-19 response. Although the current focus is COVID-19, the system has been designed to extend to other communicable diseases if needed. These may include leptospirosis, dengue and cholera. The Ministry of Health will advise the public on which diseases are covered by VOAS.
COVID-19 Alert Levels
- Alert Level 0 : Low is used when there are no COVID-19 cases in Vanuatu and there is low risk to the community.
- Alert Level 1 : Medium is used when a case has been identified in a quarantine facility but there has been no transmission outside.
- Alert level 2 : High is used when one or a few cases have been identified outside of quarantine and these are linked to each other (that is, the source of transmission is known).
- Alert Level 3 : Very high is used when there are cases in the community and the source of transmission is not known for some. It is also used when there are increasing numbers of cases.
Overview of COVID-19 Measures by Alert Level
The alert levels indicate where and what measures should be used to contain, prevent and manage COVID-19 in Vanuatu. These include key measures, additional individual measures and public health restrictions.
- In Alert Level 0: Low, the four key hygiene and prevention measures should be sustained.
- In Alert Level 1: Medium, additional individual and public health restrictions are targeted towards people working in or visiting quarantine facilities.
- In Alert Level 2: High, additional individual and public health restrictions are targeted towards people living in affected islands.
- In Alert Level 3: Very high, additional individual and public health restrictions are implemented across all of Vanuatu.
Details of COVID-19 Measures
Six Key measures
The following measures should be used at all alert levels.
Regularly wash your hands with soap and water. Wash your hands with soap and water or, if your hands are not visibly dirty, use an alcohol-based hand rub. This will remove the virus if it is on your hands.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with the virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your unclean hands, you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself.
Cover your mouth and sneeze with a tissue or your elbow. Throw away the used tissue immediately and wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub. This way you protect others from any virus released through coughs and sneezes.
Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Disinfection practices are important to reduce the potential for COVID-19 virus (and other viruses) contamination in settings such as the home, office, schools, gyms, publicly accessible buildings, churches, markets, transportation and business settings or restaurants. Frequently touched surfaces include door and window handles, kitchen and food preparation areas, counter tops, bathroom surfaces, toilets and taps, touchscreen personal devices, personal computer keyboards, and work surfaces.
Stay home when sick to avoid spreading illness. Unless it is an emergency or if you require medical care, you should stay home if you feel sick to reduce your risk of spreading illness.
Get vaccinated when available. Vaccination is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting people against harmful disease before they come into contact with them.
Additional individual measures
If you have fever, cough AND difficulty breathing, seek medical care.Phone ahead and inform the health centre when you will visit. Always follow the guidance of your health care professional or national health advisories.
- At Alert Level 0 and Alert Level 1 anyone working in a quarantine facility or at an international border should seek medical care if they have symptoms.
- At Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3 , anyone with symptoms should seek medical care and the Ministry of Health will provide advice on how and where to seek medical care in affected islands and across Vanuatu.
Get tested if you are sick . In most cases, COVID-19 causes mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever. It can be more severe for some people and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties. These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have COVID-19. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as colds and flu.
- At Alert Level 0 and Alert Level 1 anyone working in a quarantine facility or at the border should be tested if they have symptoms.
- At Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3 the Ministry of Health will provide additional testing facilities in affected islands and areas and anyone with symptoms should get tested.
When instructed, “check-in” to venues. If a case of COVID-19 is identified in Vanuatu, we will rapidly try to find everyone who they have been in close contact with (“close contacts”), as well as those that were in the same venue or event at the same time but who is at lower risk than a close contact (“casual contact”). To enable this, everyone will need to check-in to certain venues by entering their contact details in a registration form on entry. Eligible venues will have signage informing you that you need to register on entry. Once implemented, “Checking-in” to venues will be required at all levels
Wear a mask.A face covering helps stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs or sneezes. This includes someone who has COVID-19 but feels well or has no obvious symptoms. Face coverings are particularly useful when physical distancing is not possible. When using fabric facemasks, ensure they meet the minimum technical standards (3 layers) as recommended by the Ministry of Health.
- At Alert Level 1, everyone working in quarantine facilities will be required to wear a mask.
- At Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3 masks will be required to be worn when out of the home. This includes when using shared cooking or bathroom facilities.
Physically distance. Physical (sometimes referred to as social distancing) is a term used to describe a public health measure to stop or slow down the spread of infectious diseases, like COVID-19 by limiting person-to-person contact. It means keeping a distance of at least 1 metre from other people, avoiding spending time in crowded places and avoiding close or physical contact.
- COVID-19 is contained at Alert Level 0 so you do not need to maintain physical distance from others.
- At Alert Level 1, you should keep at least a 1 meter distance in quarantine facilities.
- At Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3 , you should keep at least a 1 meter distance from others in public.
Stay home except for essential personal movements. When instructed, everyone should stay home except for essential personal movements such as to purchase food or for essential work.
- At Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3, the Ministry of Health may require for people to stay at home except for essential personal movements such as purchasing food or for essential work.
Public health restrictions
Handwashing is an effective tool to prevent COVID-19, other diseases. A hand hygiene order issued under the State of Emergency requires that all business houses are required to have handwashing facilities or handwashing stations within their premises.
- Hand washing stations should be established at all alert levels.
- Monitoring for compliance is required at Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3.
When requested, maintain records of people that enter a venue. If a case of COVID-19 is identified in Vanuatu, we will rapidly try to find everyone who they have been in close contact with (“close contacts”), as well as those that were in the same venue or event at the same time but who is at lower risk than a close contact (“casual contacts”). To enable this, certain businesses, workplaces and venues are required to keep a registry of everyone who enters their venue and to provide this information to the Ministry of Health.
- Venue registration is required for all alert levels.
Prepare and implement a Workplace Health and Safety plan (see Safe Business Operations). All workplaces and businesses should prepare a Workplace Health and Safety plan.
- At Alert Level 0, plans should be developed.
- At Alert Level 1, workplaces and businesses involved with border operations should implement their plan.
- At Alert Level 2, workplaces and businesses in affected island or islands should implement their plans.
- At Alert Level 3, workplaces and businesses across Vanuatu should implement their plans.
Closure of non-essential services. Closure of non-essential services may be required to keep workers safe, limit interaction with customers and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential services include accommodation providers without guests, food and beverage providers, tour operator providers, attraction and activity providers, retail and vendor outlets, manufacturing and other service providers.
- COVID-19 is contained at Alert Level 0 and Alert Level 1, and there is no restriction to non-essential services and businesses at these levels.
- At Alert Level 2, non-essential services are required to close in the affected islands.
- At Alert Level 3, non-essential services are required to close across Vanuatu.
Closure of educational facilities. Closure of educational facilities may be required to keep staff and students, limit interaction between students, prevent transmission to family members and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
- COVID-19 is contained at Alert Level 0 and Alert Level 1, and there is no restriction to educational facilities at these levels.
- At Alert Level 2, educational facilities may be required to close in the affected islands.
- At Alert Level 3, educational facilities may be required to close across Vanuatu.
Closure of non-essential Government offices. Closure of non-essential Government offices may be required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
- COVID-19 is contained at Alert Level 0 and Alert Level 1, and there is no restriction to Government offices at these levels.
- At Alert Level 2, Government offices may be required to close in the affected island, or islands.
- At Alert Level 3, Government offices may be required to close across Vanuatu.
Reduced operation of essential services and businesses. The Ministry of Health recommends that essential services and businesses include air traffic control, firefighting services, health services and pharmacies, lighthouse or other navigational safety devices, meteorological services, rescue services (land, sea and air), postal and telecommunication services, water and sewerage, transportation, public utilities, accommodation providers with guests, supermarkets, banks, fruit and vegetable markets, general stores and petrol stations.
- COVID-19 is contained at Alert Level 0 and Alert Level 1, and there is no restriction to essential services and businesses at these levels.
- At Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3, at the highest level, essential services and businesses can remain open with restricted staffing and limited interaction with staff, visitors and or customers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do the alert levels apply if I have been vaccinated?
Safe and effective vaccines will be an essential part of how we protect people from COVID-19 in Vanuatu. Until further notice, people who have been vaccinated are still required to follow the guidance and requirements of VOAS.
How do we know we must move up to the next alert level?
The Ministry of Health will indicate if we need to move to the next level. This will be based on:
- Number of cases
- If cases are in quarantine or in the community
- If the transmission source is known (that is, if we know how a case was infected)
How do we know we are ready to move down an alert level?
The Ministry of Health will advise when we can move down an alert level.
- For Level 0, this will generally be when a confirmed case that was identified in quarantine is released from hospital and if there were no additional cases identified.
- For Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, the World Health Organization recommends waiting 28 days without any new cases identified in the community before moving down a level. However, the decision on when to move down a level will be based on the situation at the time and will take into consideration how many people in Vanuatu have been vaccinated.
How does the VOAS link with COVID-19 Transmission Scenarios?
VOAS has been designed to complement the WHO Transmission Scenarios for COVID-19, but to provide more detailed and locally-relevant information on what people need to do in Vanuatu. Until now, we have been using the Scenarios to describe the situation in Vanuatu. For example, after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Vanuatu we moved to Scenario 2A. VOAS for COVID-19 is aligned with the Scenarios; Scenario 1 corresponds to Level 0: Low, Scenario 2a corresponds to Level 1: Medium, and so on. The Scenarios are noted in the information sheets for the VOAS for COVID-19 to help everyone recognise how the two are linked.
How does VOAS link with the Cyclone Alert system?
VOAS has been developed to complement the existing Cyclone Colour Alerts, developed and implemented by the National Disaster Management Office. The Cyclone Colour Alerts uses three colours (blue, yellow and red) to indicate level of risk and steps people need to take to be prepared. People across Vanuatu know, and use, this system and clearly understand that Cyclone Colour Alerts increase and decrease in severity. Recognising the importance of this system in Vanuatu, the Ministry of Health consulted with the National Disaster Management Office on how to develop and implement VOAS.