By Bernadette H. Carreon
Palau has begun random testing for Covid-19, starting with at least 33 frontliners.
All results were negative as health officials said they were aiming to ramp up the testing capacity to cover 500 individuals.
Palau's Health Minister Emais Roberts said if more testing becomes available, they could carry out mass testing.
Palau has targeted testing with front line and first responders, the elderly, individuals with pre-existing health issues, and those who display flu symptoms.
Minister Roberts said the ministry was target-testing approximately 437 individuals over the next three weeks.
He said the on-site testings were made possible following the installation of key medical equipment and training which were completed over the weekend. It was delivered with the help of the Taiwanese government.
According to the government, the boosted capacity would pave the way for "targeted coronavirus testing in the country to begin with people who have the most risk of being exposed to it and those most susceptible to the virus".
With a population of close to 18,000, Palau President Tommy Remengesau said in a statement that he wanted to see the country return to "some sense of normalcy" in his cabinet meeting with all Bureau Directors on April 13.
"As coronavirus testing resumes and our borders locked down, we have to come up with a plan for getting back to normal and allow for limited gatherings to ease public fears and apprehension," the president said on Thursday.
"The government needs everyone on deck. We and the general public must remain vigilant and continue to practice preventive measures issued by the Ministry of Health, such as hand washing, social distancing and minimize mass gatherings.
"And we must do our very best in bringing public services to the people."
Mr Remengesau said with testing available on the island, he wanted to limit unemployment and make sure the local economy will thrive despite the dire economic impact that the pandemic is having in tourism.
The government is also repatriating Palauans and Palauan residents who have been stranded overseas as a result of Covid-19-related travel restrictions.
Yesterday, seven individuals were due to travel from Taiwan to Palau. Three of them had been in Taiwan as referral patients for medical treatment before travel restrictions were imposed, while four of the group were escorts who had accompanied the patients.
All seven people will be subject to mandatory 14-day quarantine in Palau.
The passengers were to be brought back by a chartered private aircraft coming to Palau to pick up the Taiwanese medical experts who accompanied the delivery of the Covid-19 testing equipment from Taiwan and conducted the training of local health workers.
"This was an opportunity we had to take," Palau's Minister of Health explained.
"We are grateful that the patients, their escorts, the Taiwan Government, and its Centers for Disease Control all agreed to the repatriation on the condition that all of the individuals are first tested for Covid-19 and are found to be 'negative' before boarding the plane to Palau."