RMI bans direct travel from China

Majuro’s frontline of defense against measles and the new coronavirus is the Ministry of Health and Human Service’s airport screening team that checks all inbound passengers for measles vaccine documentation or country that travel originated in. On January 25, three incoming passengers were refused entry: one for lack of measles vaccine documentation and two traveling directly from China, which violated the new travel advisory requiring any person originating their travel from China to spend 14 days in a country not affected by the new coronavirus. Photo: Giff Johnson.

GIFF JOHNSON

In the wake of mounting global concern about the coronavirus that has caused the deaths of over 100 people, the Marshall Islands issued a travel advisory January 24 banning travelers coming directly from the People’s Republic of China, where the virus originated.

“Any traveler with travel originating from or transiting through the PRC must spend at least 14 days in a country not affected by 2019-nCoV (the World Health Organization’s designation for the new coronavirus),” said the travel restriction issued Friday by Marshall Islands Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal. “In the event a traveler arrives in the Marshall Islands within the 14 day period, entry will be denied.”

Marshall Islands health and immigration officials refused entry to two people arriving on Nauru Airlines Saturday, the day after the new travel advisory went into effect. The two travelers were coming from China.

People sickened by the virus that originated in Wuhan, China have been identified in many countries. Hundreds have been hospitalized in China, which has taken unprecedented action to shut down travel from Wuhan and other cities in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

“It is strongly recommended that all persons intending to travel to PRC or other affected countries postpone their travel arrangements,” said the new travel advisory issued by the Marshall Islands.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation, with new developments daily,” said Niedenthal. Despite screening the US and other countries have started at airports, “no one has a way of foolproof screening for the coronavirus,” he said.

The Ministry of Health and RMI Immigration is screening all incoming passengers to Majuro for both measles vaccine documentation and if they meet the new travel advisory for travel from China to Majuro.

Niedenthal said in addition to wide consultation with medical staff at the Ministry of Health and with top-level officials from multiple government ministries, he and other health officials consulted with World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control officials prior to issuing the new travel advisory. “We had WHO lawyers helping us,” he said.

The new virus “is pretty scary for us,” Niedenthal said. “We had an outbreak of influenza A that was putting people in the hospital. The new virus goes to pneumonia really fast.”

He said the two hospitals in the Marshall Islands would be unable to handle the new virus.
“The Marshall Islands can’t afford to deal with four outbreaks at once,” Niedenthal said in announcing the new travel restrictions to prevent the coronavirus from being brought into RMI.


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