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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

FSM to do a test run of its repatriation plans

FSM President David Panuelo

FSM President David Panuelo

Micronesians who are stranded in Marshall Islands — one of the few countries in the world that remain coronavirus-free — will form the first batch of citizens to be repatriated to their home states as part of a dry run to test the Federated States of Micronesia's Covid-19 response strategies.

FSM President David Panuelo said the repatriation of citizens from Covid -19 free jurisdictions "would be the ultimate test in assessing the nation’s capacity to implement repatriation from Covid-19 affected jurisdictions.”

Panuelo announced the repatriation plan on Tuesday after a series of meetings with Vice President Yosiwo P. George and the FSM Covid-19 Task Force.

By treating the Marshall Islands as a Covid-19 affected jurisdiction for repatriation purposes, Panuelo said, the FSM will be able "to fully play out a live and genuine return-scenario, but without the actual threat of Covid -19 arriving into the nation.

During a series of table-top exercises held in recent months, the state task forces have identified the weaknesses in their Covid-19 response programs.

The real-life rehearsal, Panuelo said, will enable the government to spot and plug any more gaps in the adopted standard operating procedures.

The FSM government estimates that 40 FSM citizens are currently stranded in Marshall Islands; 297 on Guam, of whom 134 are residents of Pohnpei, 120 are residents of Chuuk, 13 are residents of Kosrae and 30 are residents of Yap.

Guam, which has had over 2,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 37 deaths, is considered a hot zone in the Pacific islands region and one of the U.S. jurisdictions with the highest positivity rates.

The travelling FSM citizens were stranded in transit on their way home when the four state governments shut down their borders in March to prevent the entry of Covid-19 into their communities.

Although the repatriation dates have yet to be announced, Panuelo instructed Livingston A. Taulung, chair of the Covid -19 Task Force and secretary of the Department of Health & Social Affairs, to proceed with the agreed plan.

“This pandemic has been an extended hardship—emotionally, mentally, and financially—for our citizens stranded abroad and for our citizens at home,” the president said in a statement.

The prompt shutdown of its borders has enabled FSM to dodge the Covid-19 infection.

“I appreciate and recognize that our citizens in the FSM support maintaining the closure of our border until such a time that the pandemic is no longer a threat. I also recognize that our citizens stranded abroad are desperate to return home,” Panuelo said. “I remain committed toward accomplishing the dual goals of preventing Covid-19’s entry into the FSM while ensuring the safe return of our citizens genuinely stranded abroad.”

The FSM government has set aside $800,000 to provide financial to the stranded citizens.

“”There’s no better test than real life, no better practice than the real thing, and I am confident that repatriation of our citizens stranded in the Marshall Islands will demonstrate, without any shadow of a doubt, on whether or not we are truly ready to begin the repatriation of our citizens stranded in COVID-19 affected countries and territories,” Panuelo said.

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