Death toll rises to 4; Panuelo to impose mask mandate, stay-at-home order beginning Saturday
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Despite an alarming surge of Covid-19 in the country, the Federated States of Micronesia will reopen its borders on Aug. 1 as scheduled, but the government will mandate strict safety measures including the wearing of masks beginning Saturday, President David Panuelo announced Thursday.
Although several businesses in the FSM have voluntarily suspended their operations, Panuelo said the government will not impose a national lockdown at this point.
“The advice I have received from our Department of Health & Social Affairs is that the initial transition period from being Covid-19 free to Covid-19 infected will take about one to two months for each FSM state,” the president said.
As of July 28, the FSM has recorded a total of 3,326 cases with four deaths and 12 hospital admissions since the first community transmissions were detected on July 19.
While expecting to see an increase in numbers, Panuelo said "not everyone who gets Covid-19 will become very sick."
However, he is concerned about a large number of Micronesians with comorbidities who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
"One-third of our population is diabetic and one-third of our population has high blood pressure and other comorbidities, such as obesity," the president said.
"Wearing masks and staying home isn’t just about protecting ourselves but about protecting others, and protecting others is core to our Micronesian identity of respect for everyone we encounter,” he added.
Panuelo said the FSM has an ample supply of Paxlovid and monoclonal antibodies for 21,000 people.
“The advice we have received from the U.S. CDC is to use these medicines often and frequently as possible for those people who might be at risk for severe disease or death,” he said, adding that the FSM expects to receive regular shipments of the medicines.
Panuelo announced that starting today, Covid-19 vaccines for infants and toddlers, aged between 6 months to four years old, will be available across the country.
Panuelo said he will issue a presidential directive requiring all residents to wear masks when in public places and sick people to get tested and to stay home.
“I will request that all citizens stay home unless it is essential for them to go to work, to go shopping, or to otherwise conduct necessary errands. I will also request that all citizens practice good hygiene,” he added.
"We are working hard to ensure that essential government services and critical infrastructure are maintained. Plans are being developed for these purposes, and I have instructed key Cabinet to explore how we can replenish some of our Covid-19-related financial assistance programs," Panuelo said.
The FSM, which was Covid-free for two years, was among the first countries to wall up their borders at the onset of the pandemic.
"How did Covid-19 arrive into the FSM when the borders remained closed?
We don’t know," Panuelo said.
He said the FSM Department of Health & Social Affairs was unable to identify any potential weaknesses in the quarantine sites across the country.
"Given that Covid-19 has arrived in the FSM, we are unprepared to spend additional resources on exploring its origins," Panuelo said.
"What is most important, now that the virus is here, is that we work together in keeping our country safe from it. What I ask is that all of us, as Micronesians, continue to see each other as brothers and sisters, and to treat each other with love. We are all in this together."