FSM halts repatriation flights

In Kiribati, government workers and volunteers carry Covid prevention and other supplies in this photo taken in Tarawa last week.

Due to the rapidly evolving Covid spread in many Pacific island countries as a result of the omicron variant, the FSM government announced this week it was in the “public health interest to delay the forthcoming repatriation flights to the States of Pohnpei and Chuuk, and to cancel until further notice the repatriation flights to the States of Kosrae and Yap.”

Groups of people intending to fly to Pohnpei and Chuuk were already in quarantine on Guam when the announcement was issued. They are being held for an extra week because large number tested positive during the initial phase of quarantine — with a third Covid test now scheduled prior to arriving in Pohnpei and Chuuk.

Repatriation flights scheduled for Kosrae and Yap are canceled until further notice, the FSM President’s office said.

The FSM said 11 people heading to Pohnpei were removed from FSM quarantine on Guam, after eight tested positive for Covid. Another seven tested positive on the second test in quarantine, bringing to 15 the number of positive cases out of a planned 80 people to repatriate.

Earlier this month 20 out of 40 people in one Marshall Islands repatriation group tested positive for Covid in Honolulu and were bumped from flying to RMI, staying for an additional week of quarantine in Honolulu. However, the RMI has continued with its repatriation operation, as does the US Army with weekly groups coming to Kwajalein.

In other Covid news from around the region:

• As Palau’s Covid community transmission skyrocketed late last week and at the weekend, the local newspaper Tia Belau in its Monday January 24 edition this week described the situation as “the explosion of Covid-19 pandemic in the country…”

The Ministry of Health and Human Services in Palau released a Covid update Monday this week showing 460 active cases, including 119 new Covid cases in just one day: this past Sunday. As of last Sunday, four people had been hospitalized with Covid-related illness. “In a matter of a week or so they have gone from just a few border cases to 460 active cases, 119 just yesterday,” said RMI Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal in a weekly regional update. “They have stopped announcing how many people are being quarantined on island because there are so many.”

Sunday’s new cases were confirmed at 109. Monday the number increased further to 149 new cases. Tuesday, Palau recorded 106 new cases. Palau’s Ministry of Health and Human Services reported that nine people had been hospitalized for Covid as of Monday.

Tia Belau reported that Palau’s judiciary shut down operations through the end of this month as part of its effort to reduce spread of Covid. The action followed court staff members being infected with Covid. One of the largest hotels in Palau, the Palau Royal, announced it was temporarily closing due to the Covid outbreak.

• Kiribati was reporting 66 positive Covid-19 cases Tuesday, with numbers expected to increase in the coming days. These cases include the 36 positive passengers who arrived on a recent charter flight from Fiji. The country went into lockdown on January 22 and early this Monday morning the government announced a State of Disaster Order Declaration for South Tarawa, Betio and Buota. By invoking a State of Disaster, a number of actions were triggered by President Taneti Maamau, including the zoning of areas to ensure people limit their access to stores and other essential services.

There are also curfews in place.

According to a government release, President Maamau told the public that travel from South Tarawa to the outer islands is prohibited but that residents of South Tarawa currently stranded in the outer islands can return home. The government is working with suppliers and service providers to be able to safely deliver cargo, and especially food, to the outer islands. The population of Kiribati is about 120,000, with reports showing that as of last week nearly 80,000 had received one dose of the Covid vaccine, while just 45,000 people, or 37.1 percent of the population, was fully vaccinated.

• Hawaii’s Department of Health website is showing some potentially good news by reporting a nine percent statewide drop in Covid-19 cases between January 10 and January 23. The website, which was updated on January 25, broke the numbers down by county over the same period: Hawaii County, down five percent, Honolulu County, down 13 percent, Kauai County, down 17 percent, Maui County, down five percent.

An all-time one-day record of 6,252 new Covid cases was set on January 18. But the numbers have dropped off since then. Vaccination rates in the Hawaii, which has about 1.5 million people, are 74.5 percent fully vaccinated.


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