22 Mar 2020

Micronesia's Pohnpei ramps up ban on entry

4:53 pm on 22 March 2020
Pohnpei governor Reed Oliver

Pohnpei governor Reed Oliver Photo: Pohnpei State Government

Pohnpei, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), strengthened its ban on incoming travelers on Saturday in the face of the escalating spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in the region.

Pohnpei Governor Reed Oliver issued an amended emergency order on the same day health authorities announced a second "person under investigation" for Covid-19. The island, which hosts the capital for the four-states of Micronesia, does not yet have a confirmed case of Covid-19.

Mr Oliver's new order bans arrival of all travellers, with the exception of airline flight crew, humanitarian support aircraft or vessels, and all cargo vessels and tankers - with those exempted required to remain in the airport or seaport with no contact with local workers or authorities.

Since the FSM Congress on March 11 revoked President David Panuelo's executive order implementing one of the world's most stringent Covid-19-related travel bans starting at the end of January, the individual states have moved to restrict travel.

Pohnpei initially responded to the FSM Congress' action on the same day by declaring an emergency and imposing a 14-day mandatory quarantine period for all inbound travelers. On March 18, Mr Oliver updated his first emergency order by banning the arrival of anyone who was not a Pohnpei citizen or resident, which gave exemption to diplomats, business people, and officials with international agencies and non-profit groups. They were still required to comply with a 14-day self-quarantine.

Saturday's order closes the door on arrivals and follows announcements of an increasing number of Covid-19 cases in Guam and Hawaii, where tens of thousands of FSM citizens live.

FSM neighbor the Marshall Islands has maintained a total ban on incoming travelers since 8 March and has now lost regular international air service by United Airlines, which has scheduled only one roundtrip flight in April connecting the Marshall Islands and the FSM to Guam and Hawaii. Currently, United has reduced its more than four times weekly service to Pohnpei to a single weekly roundtrip flight to Guam.

"For all the discussion about how travel bans don't work," said FSM President David Panuelo, who is from Pohnpei, after the FSM Congress on March 11 over-ruled his travel ban, "It is noteworthy that the FSM still doesn't have any cases of Covid-19." He said that the "health and safety of our people…should outweigh the short-term economic impact that we are currently facing."

President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo.

President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

Mr Oliver's 21 March amended emergency order points out that "the Territory of Guam, a major transit hub for travelers to Pohnpei, recently reported eight confirmed cases of Covid-19."

The FSM and the Marshall Islands remain two of a few countries globally that have not reported any confirmed cases of Covid-19. Mr Oliver in his emergency order warned of the "imminent threat of Covid-19."