RMI’s Covid-free status ends

First Lady Ginger Kabua (third from right) with mother Dolores Shoniber (in wheelchair) and niece Natalie Shoniber were the first to get off Saturday’s United Airlines flight at Kwajalein as the first group of repatriated Marshallese arrived. Photo: RMI Liaison Office.

Last week’s first-ever Covid-positive case in quarantine at Kwajalein and the arrival of the first group of 27 Marshallese being repatriated triggered a series of responses, actions and concerns.

Confirmation last week of one active Covid “border” case at the Kwajalein missile range put residents and political leaders in the Marshall Islands on edge. A second American tested positive, but follow up antibody testing showed it was a “historical/recovered” case as the person had Covid in July, and is no longer contagious. Both Americans who tested positive, a 35-year-old female and a 46-year-old male, are in managed quarantine at the Army base.

Ten months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the active case ends the Marshall Islands tenure as one of a handful of nations with no Covid cases.

In addition, two Marshallese in the first group of 27 being repatriated initially tested positive their day of arrival Saturday. But follow up antibody tests clarified that these were also “historical/recovered” cases, which Ministry of Health officials said are no longer contagious.

Among recent developments:

• In line with the one active case of Covid that was diagnosed through testing of a male American USAG-KA worker in quarantine, the RMI National Disaster Committee changed the condition level of RMI from yellow to blue, signifying a border case had been identified. Authorities said this case was contained and there was no spread.

• Nitijela members at Friday’s Committee of the Whole, Majuro Mayor Ladie Jack and Ebon Mayor Marie Milne all called on the Army to send the two Americans back to the US. The RMI government sent a letter to the US late last week with the same request. The US reportedly rejected the request.

• The regular USAG-KA Tuesday repatriation flight this week was postponed, the first week since June 9 that the Army will not be bringing in a group of workers for quarantine. It was delayed at the request of RMI to make the protocols stricter for USAG-KA so they are in line with the RMI government protocols, particularly for quarantine in Hawaii.

• Mayor Jack called on the National Disaster Committee to halt flights between Majuro and Kwajalein, and take other precautions to prevent possible spread of Covid to Majuro.

• Mayor Jack also threatened to file suit in the High Court through a process known as a “write of mandamus” — which requests the court to issue an order directing a government office to do its job — to halt travel between the two atolls.

• The full NDC met with the Majuro Mayor and Council Tuesday night. Chief Secretary Kino Kabua said the meeting helped to fill in a lack of information about the situation at Kwajalein, and resulted in a delay to the Mayor’s plan to file suit.
Kabua said the meeting led to improved understanding of the situation with the Mayor and Council.

• To meet the Majuro elected leaders’ concern part way, the Chief Secretary agreed to put a temporary hold on flights bring passengers to Majuro from Kwajalein through Friday, when a follow up “town hall” meeting is scheduled at Majuro City Hall to meet with traditional leaders and landowners on the Kwajalein situation. AMI can still operate flights to Kwajalein, but cannot bring passengers into Majuro.

• The Chief Secretary’s office issued numerous public statements since late last week to update the public on the situation with the arrival of last week’s USAG-KA group and the first Marshallese group last Saturday. Among the points emphasized was about “historical/recovered” cases: “A historical/recovered Covid case is not infectious. It just means they have already had the disease and are no longer a threat to the community. We determine this by giving an antibody test which shows whether or not a person has had the virus in their past. Many people contract Covid and don’t know they have had it. This will be a common occurrence as long as repatriation efforts continue.”

• On Wednesday, Mayor Jack raised concerns about Col. Bartel flying into Majuro this past Monday for several afternoon meetings and for a planned follow up visit this Friday. He said these visits should be subject to protocols, particularly in line with the government’s directive to AMI to temporarily halt bringing passengers to Majuro from Kwajalein.

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