Stranded citizens heading home but FSM borders will remain closed

The first batch of stranded citizens is scheduled for repatriation on Dec. 5, but Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo is not ready to reopen the nation and receive visitors.

“Until every person is vaccinated, our border must remain closed—but we remain committed to bringing our stranded citizens home safely,” Panuelo said in a statement announcing the FSM government’s preparation for the return of 41 stranded citizens and diplomats.

The first batch of repatriates includes MiCare-insured medical patients and their attendants, students, and diplomatic staff with foreign embassies in the FSM. They checked in with Santa Fe, FSM’s pre-quarantine site, on Nov. 20 and 21. The pre-quarantine is part of the repatriation protocols.

In addition to the 14-day pre-quarantine period on Guam, every person being repatriated will be required to undergo another 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival in the FSM as well as the same Covid-19 testing and security protection regimes.

Officials said all preventative and protective measures necessary to effectively complete this repatriation successfully are being implemented and put into effect both in Guam and in the FSM. Access and visitation to designated pre-quarantine and quarantine facilities is restricted.

The FSM citizens and diplomats have been stranded in transit when the FSM government shut the nation’s borders in March as part of the Covid-19 prevention measures.

“Ever since our border closed in March, our citizenry have been split into two distinct groups: those who wish to maintain the border closure until the pandemic is no longer a threat, and those who wish to reunite with loved ones stranded abroad,” Panuelo said. “As your president, I am obligated to protect and secure our Nation’s borders and to keep you safe from external threats.”

FSM remains Covid-free and Panuelo said his government is implementing an airtight process to keep the coronavirus out.

“I will not allow community transmission of the virus in our country. That said, I am not only the president to those of us here at home, but also to our brothers and sisters abroad. I am responsible for all of you, and I am committed to ensuring our citizens return safely home while our nation’s citizens in the FSM remain safe from the virus,” Panuelo said.

He said the FSM government has “reserved adequate fund in the millions of dollars” earmarked for the purchase of an effective vaccine to cover 100 percent of our population, beginning with frontline workers and vulnerable members of the community.

The FSM government seeks to repatriate its citizens “in an urgent timeframe” while taking into account the nation’s capacity to respond to any coronavirus transmission as well the safety of FSM communities, according to a press release from the Office of the President.

“If the tentatively scheduled Dec. 5 repatriation effort is successful, it will be the first of the FSM’s ongoing initiative to safely return the nation’s stranded citizens’ home,” states the press release.

While the FSM national government is unable to provide a specific date for the next repatriation flight, officials said the planning and execution of such remains an ongoing priority in the FSM Covid-19 Task Force.

“I have demanded an airtight repatriation regime, and that is precisely what we’re doing,” Panuelo said. “While I understand citizens may be worried about the repatriation, there is no need to be fearful, and to demonstrate why, let us review the scenario in full.”

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