Top RMI leaders are reportedly considering the possibility of a charter flight to return home Marshallese citizens stranded in Hawaii, Guam and elsewhere by the Covid-19 coronavirus travel ban.
This comes as Cabinet is scheduled to meet Thursday this week to consider the recommendations from the National Disaster Committee for either a 14-day extension of the current travel ban that expires April 5 or a 30-day extension. Strong support for extending the travel ban is being expressed on social media by Marshallese in RMI and overseas. The RMI remains Covid-19-free as of Wednesday this week and has banned incoming travelers since March 8.
In both Hawaii and Guam, Covid-19 cases are multiplying daily, as they are in several other island countries, including Fiji. On Tuesday, World Health Organization officials urged Pacific islands to “be vigilant” in managing the rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus now in 202 countries and territories of the world.
Compounding Guam’s serious coronavirus situation this week is a US aircraft carrier anchored off Guam with over 100 Covid-19 infected sailors among its over 4,000 crew members. The captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt was calling Wednesday on Guam and the Navy to help with quarantine facilities on island to solve a “quickly deteriorating” health situation for potentially thousands of sailors.
New Zealand, meantime, is in the first of a multi-week lockdown of the entire nation of nearly five million. In a sobering social media post Wednesday, New Zealand-based journalist Michael Field compared the arrival of flu in Samoa a century ago with the US aircraft carrier’s Covid-19 infections. The post, titled “Death Ships,” continued:
“• 7 November 1918: NZ ship Talune with sick H1N1 influenza aboard reaches Sāmoa — nearly 30 percent of Sāmoan (population) dead within a month.
“• 30 March 2020: USS Theodore Roosevelt with 50+ Covid-19 sick aboard reaches Guam…”
In its first media briefing for the Western Pacific Region, top World Health Organization officials on Tuesday urged nations in the region not to let their guard down in fighting Covid-19.
“We don’t know how long Covid-19 will last,” said Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai. “It is unlikely it will disappear this week or even next month.” Islands need to prepare for the long-term, he said. “We want countries to prepare for a large-scale community outbreak.”
WHO Covid-19 Technical Advisor Dr. Matthew Griffith talked about what has been learned about the spread of the coronavirus during the first four months of the pandemic. “What we know from science is gatherings are very effective at spreading (the illness),” he said in response to an inquiry about the Islamic sacred month of Ramadan, that will be held starting April 23, and which generates huge gatherings, particularly in middle eastern countries.
The important thing for government authorities is to take a “risk-based” approach toward big gatherings of people, said Griffith. By taking this approach to considering how to manage large gatherings, “we can take approaches to stop the disease from spreading,” he said.
Griffith emphasized that “no country will be safe (from Covid-19) and people need to take measures for it.”
Kasai said WHO was focused on its members with the least medical resources and most vulnerable populations — which describes many Pacific islands, including RMI. He said WHO was focused on getting Covid-19 test equipment and supplies, personal protection equipment for health workers, and ventilators to these most vulnerable countries.
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