FSM establishes stringent travel ban in effort to turn away the Novel Coronavirus

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


CaptureFebruary 7, 2020

FSM—In a concerted effort to keep the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from infecting anyone in the FSM, on January 31, 2020, FSM President David Panuelo declared a public health emergency.  The declaration banned all outward bound travel to mainland China or to any country where the virus is present including the U.S. mainland, which as of today has 12 confirmed cases of the virus.  Citizens and residents returning to the FSM from a country where the virus is present are not allowed to enter the FSM unless they have first stayed in a country, state or territory with no cases of 2019-nCoV for 14 days immediately prior to re-entry.

On Saturday, February 1, the President released a clarification on the travel ban saying that Guam and Hawaii would be treated separately from the mainland United States.  Travel to and from those places was unrestricted with the exception that people returning from the US mainland or any other country where the virus has been identified would be required to spend 14 days in one of the unaffected areas immediately before returning to the FSM.

The clarification also said that exceptions to the outward bound travel ban would be allowed for people requiring urgent medical care that could not be provided in the FSM.  That urgent medical care would need to be certified by a physician.

On Tuesday, February 4, President Panuelo amended the travel ban by lifting the ban on outward bound travel with the exception of mainland China.  FSM residents may not travel to mainland China.  “Although there is no ban on travels to destinations other than mainland China, citizens are nevertheless strongly advised against taking unnecessary travel to other countries with confirmed cases of the Coronavirus.”

If outward bound travelers do decide to travel to countries where the virus is present and want to return, they will still be bound to spend 14 consecutive days in an unaffected country, state, or territory before they can return to the FSM.  Currently air travelers could wait out their time of quarantine in Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, or Guam, but as the disease widens its global footprint, there is no way to know if those three places will remain virus free.

Though it took some time for United Airlines to receive word of the various aspects of the ban and the various changes and clarification, they will be enforcing the ban for travelers attempting to return to the FSM.  They are now informed that outward bound travel is allowable and are again allowing passengers to board outbound flights from the FSM.  Recently, Air Niugini also agreed to enforce the ban for their travelers.

Key players in the effort to keep the Coronavirus from arriving on FSM’s shores briefed senators of the Pohnpei State Legislature at a committee hearing on Monday, February 3.  Department of Health officials said that incoming air passengers would first be met and screened before being allowed to proceed to the immigration kiosks for entry.  Pohnpei Port Authority representatives said that an isolation room has been set up at the airport in the event that one of the health screeners discovers a passenger who may need to be further evaluated.  So far that has not happened.

The United representative at the committee hearing said that they are doing everything in their power to check the travel itineraries of passengers before boarding them for departure to the FSM and have already turned away many passengers as a result.  However, he said that a passenger could lie and if they have broken up their trip so that their ticket shows a point of departure other than their original point of departure, it would sometimes be difficult for ticket agents to know about the deception.

The FSM has created a health and travel questionnaire that passengers will be required to fill out.  Representatives at the committee hearing said they didn’t know at that time whether there are currently any criminal penalties for lying on the form.

Under FSM law, the President is allowed to make emergency declarations with full effect for 15 days.  Representatives of the FSM Congress said during a meeting with the President that it will consider acting to extend the emergency declaration for at least another 60 days.

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