The first case of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste was registered on 21 March 2020. The President declared a State of Emergency on 28 March 2020. Up until 26 June, the country registered 24 cases with no hospitalisations or deaths. The State of Emergency prompted the country to implement non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) including working from home, school closures, mask wearing and hand washing and banned public gatherings and travel. The State of Emergency was renewed on 5 August and has been extended every month with a gradual relaxation of restrictions. Hence, until 17 September 2020 the country registered 27 COVID-19 cases; 26 recovered and one active case, with no deaths.
A presentation was made to the National Directorate of Diseases Control of the Minister for Health, Timor-Leste on the 17 July 2020. A policy brief and a technical report are being drafted and are due to be submitted soon to the Ministry of Health and copied to the WHO country office and relevant stakeholders.
Initial collaboration with the local university (Universidade Nacional Timor-Lorosae) through Dr Joao Martins, PhD, as a member of the Study Group of the Integrated Centre for Crisis Management Timor-Leste (Centro Integrado Gestao Crize) was initiated in May and was formalised in early June through an exchange of letter of collaboration with the University of Oxford through Prof Lisa White. Since then CoMo-TL was formed and members have grown from three to seven. The team is composed of Timorese scientists, epidemiologists, public health experts and academics from the University of Oxford (Luzia Freitas), Universidade Nacional Timor-Lorosae (Dr Joao Martins and Antonio Ximenes), the Ministry of Health – Surveillance & Epidemiology (Merry Niha Varela), Universidade da Paz (Dr Antoninho Monteiro), Charles Darwin University (Dr Merita Monteiro) and Menzies School of Health Research (Lucsendar R.F. Alves).
The CoMo-TL members have started data collection and have conducted virtual meetings as the members were located in three different countries: Oxford UK, Darwin Australia and Dili Timor-Leste. Initial modelling on future projections was undertaken, however, due to the minimum number of cases, the team decided to do counterfactual modelling instead from March until June 2020. The first presentation by the CoMo-TL team members in Dili, Timor-Leste to the National Director of Diseases Control of the Ministry of Health Timor-Leste was conducted on the 17 July in Hotel Timor. Attending the presentation were technical personnel who work under the National Director of Diseases Control and they showed great enthusiasm and appreciation. Following the presentation, the World Health Organization (WHO) country office Timor-Leste expressed their interest through an exchange of e-mail conversation with CoMo-TL members for collaboration with CoMo if or when the country faces a second wave or if there is community transmission.
With technical support from the CoMo Hub in Oxford, CoMo-TL drafted a technical report and submitted this to the Ministry of Health on 19 October 2020. The technical report focuses on the counterfactual model (retrospective model) from the period of 20 March to 26 June 2020 and evaluates the impact of the disease on the country should there be a delay in interventions and assesses the number of cases and deaths that have been averted with the implementation of the State of Emergency. The report has also been shared with the WHO country office and relevant stakeholders.
Recently, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the potential growth in community transmission in the country, the WHO country office Timor-Leste made an official request to CoMo-TL on 29 March 2021 to undertake future projection modelling for COVID-19 cases in the country with technical support from the CoMo team in Oxford. A meeting to discuss the detail of the work to be undertaken by CoMo was subsequently held on1 April 2021 with Prof Lisa White from the University of Oxford and Director of the CoMo Consortium; the WHO country office Timor-Leste; and CoMo_TL members, including two new members – Nevio Sarmento from Charles Darwin University and Ismael Barreto who has recently graduated from the London School of Economics and is currently working at the WHO country office Timor-Leste. CoMo-TL members are now collecting the data needed for the modelling work which will be supported by the CoMo team in Oxford. CoMo-TL will present the outcome in the near future.