By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Federated States of Micronesia has put the brakes on the repatriation of remaining citizens who are stranded on Guam, alarmed by the raging Covid surge on island and citing the subsequent need for the nation to enhance its safety measures and vaccination campaign. Micronesian citizens who are currently in the pre-quarantine facility on Guam will be flown home as scheduled, but “no new flights will be scheduled until further notice,” the FSM said in a press statement. FSM officials said the repatriation process will resume once it is deemed safe to bring the citizens back home. However, the FSM government couldn’t say how long they will have to wait.
“It is beyond the scope of the government’s capacity to offer a timeframe for when repatriation activities will continue,” the government said. Stranded citizens will receive financial assistance while waiting to be flown home, officials said.
“While the details of this assistance are still being developed, the assistance will apply to all persons contacted by the FSM national government for confirmation of a repatriation slot who are now stranded in Guam,” the FSM government said. “Persons who traveled to Guam of their own volition, or upon the advice of a state government or non-government organization, may not necessarily be entitled to this assistance," officials said.
FSM President David Panuelo announced the repatriation pause on Monday in concurrence with the Covid-19 Task Force’s recommendation. An undetermined number of traveling Micronesians were stranded abroad when the FSM government shuttered its borders in March 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak. Last year, nearly 200 FSM citizens who got stuck on Guam while in transit were repatriated in separate batches. It was not clear as of this writing how many more FSM citizens on Guam are in limbo.
In recommending an indefinite pause on the repatriation program, the Covid-19 Task Force noted that the omicron variant yields 700 to 800 new daily infections on Guam. “And so by extension, the threat of the virus to repatriating citizens (and to the foreign service officers at the consulate general in Guam) remains high,” the FSM government said. The task force also pointed out that “the high rate of infections in Guam, juxtaposed to the high prevention standards of the FSM’s pre-quarantine site, results in a significant burden on Guam’s public health capacity at a time when that capacity is better served toward its members of the community.” National and state officials have also agreed to strengthen the Covid-19-related protocols and procedures in each locality and to get more people to roll up their sleeves for the anti-Covid shots.
While FSM may be Covid-free, its vaccination rate remains low at 38.7 percent. FSM officials underscored the need to accelerate the nation’s vaccination campaign.
“Upon review of the Covid-19 community spread across the North Pacific, the task force has determined that Palau’s comparative success, including genuine online access to education for students and the intended reopening of schools this week, and Kiribati’s relatively strict but necessary lockdown measures, are intrinsically linked to their respective vaccination campaigns,” the FSM government said. “Virtually every person in Palau is vaccinated against Covid-19; the same is not yet the case for Kiribati. By contrast, the FSM’s vaccination rate is approximately betweenPalau’s and Kiribati’s, and while the great bulk of adults aged 45-and-up are vaccinated, the vast majority of youth between the ages of 5-12 remain unvaccinated,” it added.