FSM, RMI test suspected Covid-19 cases

Marshall Islands Xavier High School students, forced to leave Chuuk state in the Federated States of Micronesia when the Jesuit-run school closed last week because the government closed schools for Covid-19 prevention, returned to Majuro Monday this week on United Airlines. They were immediately transported to a specially established facility for 14 days of quarantine. Photo: Jack Niedenthal.

The Marshall Islands announced this week it had one “person under investigation” (PUI) for the coronavirus Covid-19, while two states in the Federated States of Micronesia announced they had three PUIs in isolation — all four were awaiting off-island laboratory testing to determine if they have the Covid-19 virus.

The person in the Marshall Islands was being quarantined at the US Army Garrison, Kwajalein Atoll, while the two PUIs in Yap and the one in Pohnpei were similarly sequestered by government authorities while the islands await test results from off-island laboratory facilities. Authorities in both islands said specimens were dispatched earlier this week for testing.

These developments follow confirmation of multiple confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Guam and Hawaii — both entry points for people traveling to these north Pacific islands. In addition, the number of countries and territories worldwide with confirmed Covid-19 cases has grown to over 160.

This is the second PUI for the Marshall Islands in two weeks. The first, who arrived in Majuro two weeks ago after visiting family in the US state of Washington, tested negative, according to laboratory results from Honolulu released by the ministry.

Marshall Islands Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal and Dr. Marcelle Gallen, chairperson of Pohnpei’s Covid-19 Task Force, both said in separate statements that neither the Marshall Islands nor Pohnpei have any confirmed Covid-19 cases at this time. Yap also said it has no confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, the Marshall Islands extended its ban on all incoming international travel to the country for an additional two weeks through April 5. It also banned travel domestically between Kwajalein and Majuro on United Airlines for fear of exposure to passengers on the Island Hopper service coming from Guam or Honolulu, even though these passengers cannot get off at either destination. Travel on the domestic national airline, Air Marshall Islands, remains unrestricted, said Niedenthal in releasing the country’s 10th updated Covid-19 travel advisory Tuesday.

United Airlines announced Wednesday that it was cutting back its Island Hopper flights to one roundtrip flight per week through May 3 because of the impact of the coronavirus on travel. United has operated four roundtrip Island Hopper flights weekly for several years linking Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk with Guam and Honolulu.

 Numerous other actions have been taken by these north Pacific islands:
• Pohnpei has instituted a 14-day quarantine requirement for any incoming passengers.
• Yap, Chuuk and Pohnpei states have closed all schools, including the regional Jesuit-operated Xavier High School in Chuuk. Xavier’s closure required sending students home and directly into Covid-19 quarantine in various islands, including RMI. On arrival in Majuro Monday night, 18 Xavier students deplaned and walked directly to a waiting bus on the airport tarmac for transport to the just-opened specially established isolation facility at the College of the Marshall Islands Arrak campus for a 14-day quarantine.
• Yap announced Tuesday that in addition to school closures, it was halting on March 18 all work by government employees, except those in essential jobs including the hospital, police and port workers.
• The Marshall Islands is so far keeping public schools open. But Niedenthal said this could change depending on the outcome of laboratory testing for the currently quarantined PUI at Kwajalein.
• International travel by government employees remains banned in RMI and in other island countries.

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