Palikir, Pohnpei — Micronesian citizens and foreign diplomats who have been stranded abroad for more than a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic may finally be able to fly back home on May 13, according to the Federated States of Micronesia government.
Officials said the U.S. government has granted FSM's request for assistance to get a humanitarian flight for Micronesians stranded on Guam, Palau and Marshall Islands.
“We are committed to May 13th as our first repatriation activity from a Covid-19 affected jurisdiction,” FSM President David Panuelo said.
The U.S. government has offered to provide FSM with medical capacity-building personnel.
Doctors with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Department of Defense will arrive in FSM to provide assistance during the nation’s initial repatriation efforts and to build medical capacity within the FSM. The date of their arrival has yet to be announced.
An undetermined number of Micronesian patients, students and diplomats have been locked out of their home states when FSM shut its borders at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. On Guam, at least 297 Micronesian travelers are currently on Guam, awaiting their repatriation.
The repatriation plan was initially scheduled for October 2020 but it had been put off following reports of a Covid-19 case in the Marshall Islands.
Another plan was made to bring the citizens back home in December 2020 but again, it was canceled when health authorities determined that the Pohnpei State Hospital was facing a shortfall in health response capacity.
FSM remains Covid-free.
For the May 13 repatriation plans, authorities said stranded medical patients are given the first priority for return into the nation from Covid-19 affected jurisdictions.
Repatriating citizens will be required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with limited exceptions. They will be required to go through a 14-day pre-quarantine and two negative Covid- 19 tests, without modifications or exceptions to these requirements.
FSM officials said all repatriating persons will undergo the same Covid-19 testing and security protection regimes.
All preventative and protective measures necessary to effectively complete this repatriation effort 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 are restricted.
The government said it is still targeting a 70 percent vaccination rate prior to the implementation of its repatriation plans.
As of April 3, at least 26 percent (15,552 persons) of the nation’s eligible population have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and 17 percent (9,866) have received their second and final dose of the vaccine. In addition to having received 62,600 doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine thus far, the FSM has also received 1,800 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Moderna vaccine has a shelf-life of six months, compared to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s shelf-life of three months.
All national government frontline workers are mandated to get fully vaccinated. Priority is given to doctors, nurses, customs, immigration, quarantine, police officers and transportation workers, who may come into contact with repatriating citizens.
"I encourage our state governments to do the same, so as to help ensure that we have as airtight a repatriation regime as possible," Panuelo said.
“I emphasize again that it is a very serious responsibility upon our nation’s citizens to ensure that you get vaccinated at the nearest possible opportunity," he added.
The president said the arrival of Micronesian travelers "can make or break our nation’s overall health and safety if we don’t take the personal responsibility to get vaccinated.”
Panelo has extended the public health emergency declaration through May 31. Restrictions and protocols mandated by previous directives remain in place.
Travel into the FSM remains restricted, with limited exceptions; outbound travel from the FSM remains open, though such activity is discouraged unless it is medically necessary.
“We are among the most fortunate countries in the world,” Panuelo said in a statement. “As we’ve kept our nation Covid-19 free, we began our Covid-19 vaccination campaign on Dec. 31, 2020, and now it’s our citizens’ individual responsibility to take the vaccine and help protect yourself and your family, to help keep the overall safety and health of our nation intact from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic."
The government mandates children to take certain vaccines before
going to school for their safety. "It doesn’t make sense that our nation’s adults are hesitant to do the same," the president said.