By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Repatriation of stranded citizens on hold until FSM gets 70% immunization
The repatriation of Micronesians and foreign diplomats stranded overseas due to the Covid-19 pandemic remains on pause until the Federated States of Micronesia achieved herd immunity, according to a new government directive issued today. FSM has rejoined the ranks of Covid-19 free countries, but its government won’t take any chances and extended the public health emergency through March 31. The renewed declaration, issued today through a congressional resolution, retains the public health policies from previous presidential directives such as the ban on inbound travel, which further stalls the repatriation of stranded citizens and diplomats. “It is the intent of the FSM national government to achieve a 70 percent vaccination rate among its eligible population (i.e. adults aged 18 years and up) prior to the resumption of repatriation activities,” states a press release from the FSM Information Service.
President David Panuelo earlier said the FSM government was aiming for a 100-percent vaccination rate.
While it remains the nation's target, Panuelo said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have recommended that 70 percent to 80 percent "will be our foundation for the repatriation of our citizens."
The FSM government said approximately 5,048 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been given across the nation as of Feb. 1. Approximately 10 second doses of the vaccine have been given. 1,072 doses have been administered in Yap; 1,783 doses have been administered in Chuuk; 1,675 doses have been administered in Pohnpei; and 528 doses have been administered in Kosrae. The congressional resolution “offers no change from the status quo of the past several months and is thematically similar to the previously enacted,” the FSMIS said. “Economic provisions, such as cargo shipping and at-sea transshipment of fish, remain in place and unaltered.” Under the new emergency directive, however, the government would allow the disembarkation of any individual on a fishing boat who may need an emergency medical attention. FSM officials have agreed that in the event a coronavirus case enters FSM, the national Covid-19 Task Force “may choose to temporarily halt interstate travel.”
On Jan. 29, the World Health Organization declared FSM Covid-19 free again following a confirmation that the Covid-19 case earlier reported from MV Chief Mailo was found “negative and historical after subsequent antibody and antigen tests.” “This is great news for the people and government of the FSM,” Panuelo said in a special address to nation last week. “Our citizens stranded abroad are eager to know when they can return home. Something that we have learned over the course of this past month with the return of the Chief Mailo is that, while our frontline responders, and our procedures and protocols, are resilient, there remains a great deal of fear in the hearts of many of our citizens and decision-makers. I believe we can extinguish that fear by achieving herd immunity through our Covid-19 vaccination program.”
So far, the president said, most frontline responders have received the vaccine.
Plans to repatriate stranded citizens have been postponed repeatedly since October last year.