WHO declares FSM to again be COVID-19 free Positive case historical and not contagious

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


January 30, 2021

Pohnpei, FSM—On January 29, 2021, the World Health Organization reported that the FSM is once again COVID-19 free. Medical professionals have deemed that the only confirmed case of COVID-19 aboard the MS Chief Mailo to be negative and historical, posing no threat to the FSM’s residents.

The case never posed a hazard to the FSM, but it is a testimony to the effectiveness of the FSM’s readiness plans that the positive case was discovered and isolated while that determination could be made.

“This is great news for the people and Government of the FSM,” FSM President David Panuelo said in a statement published by his public information officer. “It is a testament to the continued dedication of our National and State medical teams, who have been collaborating diligently, and in partnership with our friends and allies at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the World Health Organization. While the Government’s top priority at this moment is the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination program, it is worth taking a moment to thank the collective efforts of our Nation’s medical experts, and our international bilateral and multilateral partners, for their tireless efforts to keep our Nation safe.”

“…Since the crew and passenger of the CM (Chief Mailo) have been thoroughly tested and assessed as posing no risk to our FSM community, I am authorizing their disembarkation in the FSM at the completion of their required quarantine and isolation period,” President Panuelo wrote in a January 28 letter to Pohnpei Governor Reed Oliver and copied to all FSM State Governors.

Governor Oliver responded in a letter on the same day. “As much as we are very thankful that the result of the medical finding concluded that the crew had completed their quarantine requirements and pose no threat to the community, there is still one positive case onboard.  The people of Pohnpei State remain very concerned. The State Task Force strongly recommends full compliance with the decrees and respectfully honors both the the FSM and Pohnpei State Resolutions prohibiting disembarkation on Pohnpei of any passengers from a COVID-19 infected areas at this time,” he wrote.

“The Pohnpei State Task Force had polled the crew and all Chuukese crew want to go home to Chuuk and likewise all Filipinos go home in the Philippines. In short, no disembarkation on Pohnpei,” he concluded.

The quarantine period for the people aboard the MS Chief Mailo ended on January 28.

The exchange between Pohnpei’s Governor and the FSM’s President led to speculation that Pohnpei does not support repatriation of any kind even for its stranded citizens.  However, a source who witnessed a meeting between the two leaders last week said that Governor Oliver is still pushing for the repatriation process to begin as soon as possible, beginning with people who were stranded due to medical referrals.

The successful identification of the positive case of COVID-19, which is now known to have been a non-contagious remnant of COVID-19 in the body of a person who previously had COVID-19 but recovered, gives witness to the fact that the processes set up by Pohnpei are effective in protecting its current residents.

“Our citizens stranded abroad are eager to know when they can return home. Something that we have learned over the course of this past month with the return of the Chief Mailo is that, while our frontline responders, and our procedures and protocols, are resilient, there remains a great deal of fear in the hearts of many of our citizens and decision-makers. I believe we can extinguish that fear by achieving herd immunity through our COVID-19 vaccination program,” President Panuelo said during a speech last week. 

“I had been saying that we need to achieve a 100% vaccination rate for the FSM to make this happen. A 100% [vaccination] rate is still our Nation’s overall target and objective, but per the sound medical advice we have received from the U.S. CDC and the WHO, an overall target of 70% to 80% will be our foundation for the repatriation of our citizens,” he said.

Though the vaccination program began at least a month ago as evidenced by the fact that President Panuelo received his second dose of the Moderna vaccine, the program as it is proceeding now is going to take quite a while before the 70 to 80 percent vaccination level is reached.

President Panuelo said that so far 3500 people have received first doses of the vaccine in the FSM. He said that some States were moving faster than the others and pointed to Chuuk, where 1500 doses have been given as an example for other States. He said that so far Yap has given only just under 150 doses.  Another source said that Pohnpei had as of last week administered 1200 doses. We could not obtain any information on the number of doses Kosrae has so far administered.

Some FSM Health Officials have said that the somewhat slow rate of vaccination is due in part by unfounded concerns regarding the safety of the Moderna Vaccine.  “According to the US Center for Disease Control, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is safe and about 94.1 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 illnesses in people who received the recommended two doses,” said Pohnpei State’s first press release on the availability of the vaccine in Pohnpei that the government issued only on January 28.

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