Samoa to shut down amid measles disaster

Ben McKay
Samoa's prime minister has ordered businesses closed to allow for a nationwide measles vaccination

Samoan families have been asked to stay home and hang red flags outside their homes if they need vaccinations in a last-gasp effort to inoculate the country from a deadly measles outbreak.

The Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has effectively shut down the country for two days, ordering a "door to door mass vaccination campaign".

All non-essential businesses and government services will close, and transport will be banned.

Public servants have been ordered to work alongside local and foreign health workers to provide vaccinations.

On Wednesday, health officials issued another grim update, advising that five more Samoans have died from the disease in the past 24 hours.

That current death toll, certain to rise further, is 60.

The number of Samoans to have caught the disease has ticked over 4000, meaning more than one in every 50 locals have contracted measles in the outbreak.

Reports from Samoa suggest that many people have stopped turning up for work, while schools have closed and church services have been cancelled.

The government, which has made the vaccination compulsory and issued a state of emergency, is claiming major gains in lifting the country's vaccination rate.

Beginning the outbreak with vaccination rates of around a third, Radio NZ reports three quarters of young children, the most at-risk group, on Samoa's main islands have been vaccinated.