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Samoa is one of the few countries that have yet to confirm a positive case of COVID-19. However, the partial lockdown from 21 March to 2 May 2020, and the closure of borders since 25 March to date, have impacted on some of the on-going data collections activities, scheduled trainings and also stakeholder consultations. Some key impacts are listed in this note.
The Census for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries 2020, involving about 80 personnel, was planned for 6 weeks of data collection staring in March using tablets. After one week of data collection in the field, the State of Emergency (SOE) was declared. Hence all the 80 personnel were called back and the census was put on hold. About 10 of them were full-time staff, while the rest were temporary enumerators who we had to let go to await the end of the SOE status. Because of the long break, we are concerned that we have to reallocate our budget in order to re-train the whole team before going out again later this year. We are also anticipating some losses of workers due to the long wait and lack of pay during the SOE. The challenge is to try and complete the data collection of the Ag census within this year.
We had plans to host a stakeholder consultations in May of this year to finalise the analysis of the results and report of the Household income and expenditure survey (HIES) 2018. We expected the technical assistance from the Pacific Community (SPC) in New Caledonia in March/April this year to help us prepare for this activity. Unfortunately, we had to postpone the SPC mission as well as the stakeholder consultations to another time. To make up for the loss, we are using emails and video conferencing to review the results with SPC. We have yet to set a date for the stakeholder consultations, given the size of the group, as we face challenges in the procurement of teleconference and video conference equipment to host big virtual meetings if the SOE is extended.
Shipping services between the islands were also cancelled during the SOE in the first 4 weeks. This has significantly disrupted our weekly survey on our biggest island (Savai’i), and we had no choice but to use only the data from the main island (Upolu), where the capital of Apia is located, to compile the monthly Consumer price index (CPI) report for April 2020. We noted that the closure of the inter-island ferry services and the early closedown of the markets at 3pm daily during the SOE has disrupted and brought down the demand and supply of produce at the markets, which will also impact on statistical trends. The challenge is to build the capacity of the staff on how to manage statistical collections and analysis during any crisis like the COVID-19.
As Samoa depended mostly on tourism and remittances for revenue and foreign exchange, the closure of international borders brought a full-stop to tourism earnings, while the lockdown overseas also decreased the volume of remittances being sent home, which of course poses a big impact on the GDP estimates. The challenge is to build the capacity of the staff on how to manage statistical collections and analysis during any crisis like the COVID-19. The lockdown also prevented our office to code and enter arrivals and departures for migration statistics on a daily basis. On the positive side, we managed to catch up with our delayed reports and we have extra hands which we have reallocated to help out with other statistical services. On the negative side, we do not have migration statistics to report on a monthly basis.
Our major revenue collection comes from the fees that the public paid for the registration of births, deaths and marriages. Before the lockdown, the average collection was about $3,000 tala per day. However, during the SOE lockdown, the public bus services were also put on hold, except for taxis and private vehicles. As a result, there was limited affordable transport for the public to visit the civil registration office, which actually led to less registration of vital events, as well as reduced revenue to about $800 tala per day. We see the opportunity here to develop an application to enable the public to register vital events on line during such difficult times and the challenge is how to reach that goal.
We were very fortunate to have completed the data collection of the Demograhic and health survey-Multiple indicator cluster survey (DHS-MICS) 2019 by February 2020. In fact, before the SOE for the COVID-19 was declared in March 2020, we also encountered another two months of SOE in September-December 2019, due to the outbreak of the Measles epidemic in Samoa. Originally, we targeted May 2020 to release the survey results, but due to the Measles outbreak and now the COVID-19, we have to reschedule all our analysis and dissemmination activities to another time causing delays to the release of essential health data. The challenge is to get the results out as soon as possible.
The National ID project that the Samoa Bureau of Statistics (SBS) is leading was officially approved by the government in July 2018. It is funded by the World Bank. The aim was to have the digital national ID ready in time for the national election in March/April 2021. However, due to the SOE closure of borders, not only in Samoa but also the international ports, we have not been able to bring on board the international consultants that we have hired to help with the project by April/May 2020. As a result, we are also using video conferencing and emails to communicate while awaiting a better time to meet them in person. We are also anticipating delays in achieving targets on time and we may not be able to get the ID ready by the national election day, due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The challenge is to keep going despite all the difficulties because the whole world is in the same situation.
Note prepared by the office of the Government Statistician of Samoa ( https://www.sbs.gov.ws/).