Micronesia shuts border to inbound travelers

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MAJURO — The Micronesian states of Chuuk and Yap joined Pohnpei this week in banning inbound arrivals by air, effectively shutting the country to visitors or returning residents in response to the rapidly spreading global Covid-19 pandemic.

Majuro-based Pacific International Inc. was praised for fast work on building Majuro hospital’s new special isolation facility for possible future Covid-19 coronavirus patients. “A little over two weeks ago there was nothing but an empty lot here,” said Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal. “Hats off to the PII construction crew.”  Marshall Islands Ministry of Health and Human Services photo

Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo made the announcement late Wednesday, noting that the FSM’s fourth state, Kosrae, no longer has air service because United Airlines suspended regular service since March 21. Last Saturday, Pohnpei Gov. Reed Oliver expanded an earlier emergency order to ban all incoming arrivals by plane in light of an increasing number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Guam. Tens of thousands of FSM citizens reside in Guam.

The FSM has now joined the Marshall Islands in closing off visitor traffic to the islands. The Marshall Islands implemented the travel ban on March 8.

The third United States-affiliated nation in Micronesia, Palau, also canceled incoming air travel for a two-week period, but indicated it would reopen Palau as a destination in early April. A United Airlines flight from Guam to Palau Thursday flew in empty in order to carry passengers out of Palau. The next weekly flight, on April 2, has been cancelled by directive of Palau Minister for Public Infrastructure, Industries and Commerce Charles Obichang.

There have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Marshall Islands, FSM or Palau to date.

In a March 25 letter to United, Obichang said Palau “will be establishing a quarantine facility, setting up required procedures, and obtaining test kits for Covid-19, ensuring that it can safely handle arriving passengers and prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the country.” He said Palau authorities would be in touch with United Airlines to discuss how to handle resumption of flights starting April 9.

Meanwhile, in addition to Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap banning incoming travelers, the FSM government is maintaining a prohibition on outbound travel by FSM citizens unless they obtain approval from the government for special circumstances, including returning to work abroad, their school, or for a family funeral.

“These expanded health precaution measures will help to ensure the safety of our nation’s citizens,” President Panuelo said in a statement Wednesday.

The FSM has also now waived the 14-day quarantine period for cargo and tanker vessels “to ensure the continued supply of essential goods and services,” Panuelo said. Shipping lines must comply with additional health precautionary measures supervised by the FSM State Departments of Health and Port Authorities. Fishing vessels licensed in the FSM and arriving into the nation’s borders are still subject to their requirements, including 14-day quarantines.

The Marshall Islands is maintaining its 14-day quarantine period for container ships and fuel tankers prior to arrival in Marshall Islands ports.

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