RMI’s travel lockdown

A new isolation ward for possible Covid-19 patients is half way to completion after just two weeks of work by Pacific International Inc. The project is being fast-tracked because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Jack Niedenthal.

GIFF JOHNSON

The RMI shutdown of passenger arrival on airplanes has stranded a few people in various locations. But for the 55,000 residents of the RMI, the border lockdown is a welcome development when viewing the ongoing and worsening Covid-19 coronavirus crisis in many nations.

Last year’s ban on travel to outer islands because of the Ebeye and Majuro dengue fever outbreak proved one fact: islands that had no visitors developed no dengue. 

The many countries this past week that have closed their borders to inbound travel confirm the farsighted action by the President, the Cabinet, the Disaster Management Committee and the Ministry of Health and Human Services to take this drastic action on March 8 — getting out in front of the pandemic instead of waiting for it to arrive and then closing the doors.

The only question remains, was March 8 early enough? Both “persons under investigation” for Covid-19, who arrived in RMI before the travel ban went into effect, tested negative for the virus.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases are jumping in Guam and Hawaii, the RMI’s two closest international destinations. Despite this, Palau had maintained an open border, except for banning travelers from China, until this past Sunday when the first United flight was cancelled by Palau government direction.

Majuro’s neighbor Pohnpei took action Saturday to shut down all incoming passengers on planes. Governor Reed Oliver ramped up his earlier emergency order limiting inbound arrivals with a total ban that mirrors the RMI’s. 

But Chuuk and Yap remain open and reportedly hundreds of FSM citizens who live on Guam, where Covid-19 patients are already stretching Guam hospital services to capacity in the first week of what will be an extended crisis, have streamed back to those two states in recent days. 

With Covid-19 transmission out of control in many nations, including the US, many are locking down now to slow spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to United, Nauru Airlines suspended flights over a week ago. US military flights continue to Kwajalein but follow the RMI travel advisory that bans incoming passengers. United Airlines said the next Island Hopper roundtrip flight will be April 13-14. No other flights are currently scheduled in April.

The RMI is already hurting economically and will be further hammered by the ongoing travel ban, a ban that is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon unless countries such as the US, and Hawaii, Guam and other islands succeed in containing the problem.

Meanwhile, Pacific International Inc. was praised this week for fast work on Majuro hospital’s new special isolation facility for possible future Covid-19 coronavirus patients. “Majuro eight-room isolation ward speeding along,” said Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal. “A little over two weeks ago there was nothing but an empty lot here. Hats off to the PII construction crew.” The facility was put on a construction fast-track because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.


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