Fiji flight bringing ‘essential’ workers to Marshall Islands

10:03 am on 27 November 2020

The first group of workers to arrive in the Marshall Islands since the border was closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic are scheduled to arrive today on a chartered Fiji Airways flight.

The government's Arrak Quarantine Centre on Majuro

The government's Arrak Quarantine Centre on Majuro Photo: RNZ Pacific / Giff Johnson

The government-owned national carrier Air Marshall Islands is chartering a Fiji Airways aircraft to bring in 49 people from Fiji who were described as "essential" workers.

With the exception of a handful of diplomatic officials from the United States and Australia, and US Army base workers at the Kwajalein missile range who repatriated through extended quarantines at the US base, no people had entered the country since early March.

The Office of the Chief Secretary, (OCS), said the purpose of the flight is to bring in workers essential to the Covid-19 response. This includes health care workers destined for hospitals on Majuro and Ebeye Islands, pilots for the airline, and educators for the University of the South Pacific campus, College of the Marshall Islands, and local public secondary schools.

The anticipated 49 people departing from Fiji will receive a Covid-19 test prior to departure and will undergo 14 days of secure quarantine at the Arrak Quarantine Facility in Majuro with additional Covid-19 testing on day 7 and day 14 of quarantine. The Arrak facility was established earlier this year by the Ministry of Health and Human Services using a satellite campus of the College of the Marshall Islands for a quarantine and isolation facility for Covid-19 prevention.

"Like the Marshall Islands, Fiji does not have any community transmission of Covid-19 with active Covid-19 cases in secure and controlled border quarantine," said the government's Chief Secretary Kino Kabua.

Meanwhile, at the US military base at Kwajalein, the three Marshallese who tested positive for Covid-19 while in quarantine at Kwajalein on 15 November, tested negative a week later, said the Chief Secretary in a statement this week.

The entire group of 27 Marshallese citizens in quarantine at Kwajalein was re-tested November 22.

"A repeat SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) test was carried out on 22 November, and no new cases of Covid-19 have been identified," said Kabua. "In addition, the cases notified on 15 November have returned negative Covid-19 tests this week."

Health authorities who are managing the quarantine process at Kwajalein said none of the 27 have shown any symptoms related to Covid-19 and all of the medical and security staff managing the quarantine facility "also returned negative Covid-19 tests," said the Chief Secretary.

The group, pending final Covid-19 testing this weekend, is scheduled for release this Sunday, November 29 after four weeks of quarantine at the Army base.

The quarantine period was extended by an extra seven days when three members of the group tested positive for Covid-19 on 15 November.

This is the first group of Marshallese stranded by the Covid-19 border closure to be repatriated from Hawaii.

There is no confirmed date for a second group as government officials said they are working to improve the process for managing quarantine and airport transfer in Hawaii prior to the next group of islanders returning home.