FSM not ready to reopen borders
Panuelo seeks extension of Micronesia's public health emergency status through July 31
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Federated States of Micronesia President David W. Panuelo has asked the parliament to extend the public health emergency declaration through July 31 and put off plans to reopen international travels, saying the nation needs more time to pull things together before unshuttering its borders.
“A significant rationale for delaying the opening of the nation’s borders until Aug. 1 is [based] on the premise that the FSM’s vaccination coverage is insufficient to prevent widespread human suffering and the overwhelming of limited medical staff and equipment across the nation,” read a statement from the Office of the President.
“Choosing to open the nation’s borders on Aug. 1 is equivalent to purposefully choosing to introduce Covid-19 into the FSM shortly thereafter; thus, it is essential that the decision be made so the nation transitions from Covid-free to Covid-protected,” the statement added.
Panuelo first declared a public health emergency in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The directive has since been extended several times.
The FSM was among the first countries to promptly close their borders. While it has detected border cases, the FSM has not reported any community transmissions.
The FSM airports' shutdown left hundreds of traveling Micronesians stranded abroad. The latest batch of citizens stuck on Guam will be flown to Ponhpei on Saturday.
Panuelo proposed cutting the quarantine period on Guam from five to three days starting in June, and to eliminate the quarantine requirement altogether in July.
Pending action in the 22nd FSM Congress is the Healthy Border Protection Act, which would require full vaccination for all passengers entering the FSM.
The bill designates the Department of Justice and the Department of Health & Social Affairs as the regulatory and implementing agencies that would respond to Covid-related emergencies.
“It is the understanding of the executive branch that the intent of the proposed legislation is to effectively replace the declaration of public health emergency so that when the nation's borders open fully, and the FSM undergoes its first wave of Covid-19, there remains a legal basis for mandating vaccinations,” Panuelo said in a letter to Speaker Wesley W. Simina.
The bill is scheduled to be deliberated during the 4th regular session of Congress this week.
Panuelo asked Simina to postpone the bill’s passage until July, pointing out that “the nation is not yet 100 percent prepared for the first wave of Covid-19.”
The FSM government noted that Micronesian citizens have access only to cloth masks, “which do not offer substantial protection against omicron.” Most citizens do not have at-home antigen testing kits or experience using them.
Panuelo said the FSM needs more time to inoculate its citizens. As of May 16, the nation’s vaccine coverage for all persons aged five and older is at 69 percent. Approximately half of the 45-and-up age group have received a booster dose, and approximately 20 percent of persons 18 years and up have received a booster dose.
The booster dose is essential for protecting persons from the omicron, which is debatably the most contagious virus ever recorded, next to measles, the FSM government said.