Pohnpei ramps up ban on entry

An aerial view of Pohnpei with the international airport in the foreground. Photo: Pohnpei Ports Authority.

GIFF JOHNSON

Pohnpei strengthened its ban on incoming travelers Saturday in the face of the escalating spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in the region.

Pohnpei Governor Reed Oliver issued an amended emergency order March 21 the same day as Pohnpei health authorities announced the second “person under investigation” (PUI) for Covid-19. The island, which hosts the capital for the four-states of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), does not yet have a confirmed case of Covid-19. The PUI was later declared by the CDC laboratory on Guam to not have the symptoms justifying a test. Pohnpei health authorities are continuing to monitor the patient, who remains in quarantine.

Oliver’s new order bans arrival of all travelers, with the exception of airline flight crew, humanitarian support aircraft or vessels, and all cargo vessels and tankers — with those exempted required to remain in the airport or seaport with no contact with local workers or authorities.

Since the FSM Congress on March 11 revoked President David Panuelo’s executive order implementing one of the world’s most stringent Covid-19-related travel bans starting at the end of January, the individual FSM states have moved to restrict travel. Up to March 11, the FSM banned arrival of anyone from a country with a confirmed Covid-19 case.

Pohnpei initially responded the FSM Congress’ action on the same day by declaring an emergency and imposing a 14-day mandatory quarantine period for all inbound travelers. On March 18, Oliver updated his first emergency order by banning arrival of anyone who was not a Pohnpei citizen or resident, which gave exemption to diplomats, business people, and officials with international agencies and non-profit groups. They were still required to comply with a 14-day self-quarantine.

Saturday’s order closes the door on arrivals and follows announcements of an increasing number of Covid-19 cases in Guam and Hawaii, where tens of thousands of FSM citizens live.
The Marshall Islands has maintained a total ban on incoming travelers since March 8 and has now lost regular international air service by United Airlines, which has scheduled only one roundtrip flight in April connecting the Marshall Islands and the FSM to Guam and Hawaii. Currently, United has reduced its more than four times weekly service to Pohnpei to a single weekly roundtrip flight to Guam. United also suspended flights to Kosrae, which like the Marshall Islands now has no international airline link to the outside world.

“For all the discussion about how travel bans don’t work,” said FSM President Panuelo after the FSM Congress on March 11 over-ruled his travel ban, “It is noteworthy that the FSM still doesn’t have any cases of Covid-19.” He said that the “health and safety of our people…should outweigh the short-term economic impact that we are currently facing.”
Oliver’s March 21 amended emergency order points out that the Territory of Guam, “a major transit hub for travelers to Pohnpei,” recently reported confirmed cases of Covid-19.


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