Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia are among the last countries standing, sharing the hall of fame with just a few other countries that have successfully hindered the entry of the treacherous Covid-19 into their communities.
They were among the first nations in the region to shut their borders when the contagion was in its nascent stage. And despite remaining Covid-free, they are not racing to be the first ones to reopen.
Palau President Tommy Remengesau was inclined to keep the wall up as long as necessary. “It became a question of economics or people’s lives,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “Profits come and go. But you only have one life to live and that’s the basic model we’ve been following.”
Such a careful thinking manifests caring thoughts that seem sparse on Guam.
FSM is biding its time as well. The nation’s eventual reopening is preceded by an elaborate preparation with meticulous details. FSM has conducted a series of exercises to assess and simulate the nation’s capacity and procedures for what to do when FSM nation’s citizens stranded abroad are allowed to be repatriated. The tabletop exercises included a simulation of how the national and state governments would respond if a commercial air carrier arrived in Pohnpei with at least one passenger showing symptoms consistent with Covid-19 during the flight.
Palau and FSM are putting Guam to shame.
That the Leon Guerrero administration even thought of lifting the quarantine requirement for travelers from certain countries was troubling. Granted that Japan, South Korea and Japan have been “cured,” there is still no guarantee that travelers will not get exposed along the fight. The virus lurks in random places.
This does not make Guam an attractive destination. On the contrary, it could make Guam land on the list of places to avoid for its careless policy.
Fortunately, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero quickly recalled the precipitous plan to reopen tourism on July 1. Guam can’t be too complacent again.
Mass testing is beginning to give us a better picture of what Guam graph really looks like. The 14 new positive cases that popped up on June 24 may be an indication that “a second wave” is not just a crackpot warning.
The outbreak among service members deployed to Andersen Air Force Base and the previous presence of more than 1,500 infected sailors from USS Theodore Roosevelt alerted us that we are not exactly in full in control of the contagion. We can curate the statistics by separating military from civilian numbers, but in the end, any infected person who is physically on this island is exposing anybody around them.
The outbreak involving the servicemembers who arrived on Guam in the late part of May offers a glimpse of what might happen if we open back up too wide and too soon.
It doesn’t take an economist to predict that attempting to arrest the current economic blow at the expense of public health can be counterproductive. A renewed spike in infections and accompanying deaths will make another shutdown inevitable. Another reckless decision can potentially set up rolling waves of public health collapse and economic devastation.
To quote President Remengesau again, “Profits come and go. But you only have one life to live.”