PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On May 16th, 2022, His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), received a request from Pohnpei State Government to postpone the May 25th repatriation flight to May 28th. The reason for the request was to allow for additional preparation time for the flight. On May 17th, 2022, the President granted the request.
Additionally, following the opening of the 4th Regular Session of the 22nd FSM Congress and subsequent Committee to Wait on the President, His Excellency David W. Panuelo instructed the FSM COVID-19 Task Force to review Congressional Bill 22-148, also known as the Healthy Border Protection Act. The FSM COVID-19 Task Force has completed their review of the Act.
The primary idea behind the Healthy Border Protection Act is requiring by law that all persons entering the FSM be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (as opposed to the contemporary format of a frequently extended Declaration of Public Health Emergency, which carries an expiration date). The vaccine mandate would apply to all persons traveling to the FSM for any period of time beyond an airport layover, as well as include medical exemptions for specific categories of persons. Furthermore, the Healthy Border Protection Act would provide regulatory powers to the Department of Justice and the Department of Health & Social Affairs, inclusive of extensive reporting requirements on the efficacy of any such regulations. It is the understanding of the Executive Branch that the intent of the proposed legislation is to effectively replace the Declaration of Public Health Emergency so that, when the Nation’s borders open fully, and the FSM undergoes its first wave of COVID-19, there remains a legal basis for mandating vaccinations, and that the Departments of Justice and Health & Social Affairs have the necessary powers to appropriately respond.
In a letter written to the Honorable Wesley W. Simina, Speaker of the 22nd Congress, President Panuelo described that the Executive Branch does not believe that the best time to pass this proposed legislation into law is during the 4th Regular Session of Congress, on the premise that the Nation is not yet 100% prepared for the first wave of COVID-19.
The President, guided by the COVID-19 Task Force, recommended to the Speaker that Congress extend the Declaration of Public Health Emergency to conclude at the end of July 31st, 2022, with the Nation’s border opening on August 1st, 2022. Additionally, the President recommended amending relevant language on “rare exceptions” to the travel ban to include every person (not just essential workers), in part so that visiting medical teams can be permitted to enter the country to provide much-needed COVID-19 related services.
Further, the President recommended reducing the number of quarantine days in Guam from five (5) days to three (3) days, effective in June 2022, and to eliminate Guam-based quarantine completely in July 2022.
A significant rationale for delaying the opening of the Nation’s borders until August 1st, 2022 is on the premise that the FSM’s vaccination coverage is insufficient to prevent widespread human suffering, and the overwhelming of limited medical staff and equipment across the Nation. Choosing to open the Nation’s borders on August 1st, 2022 is equivalent to purposefully choosing to introduce COVID-19 into the FSM shortly thereafter; thus, it is essential that the decision be made so the Nation transitions from COVID-19 free to COVID-19 protected.
As of May 16th, 2022, the Nation’s vaccine coverage for all persons aged five (5) and up is at 69%. Approximately half of persons 45 and up have received a booster dose, and approximately 20% of persons 18 years and up have received a booster dose. The booster dose is essential towards protecting persons from the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is debatably the most contagious virus ever recorded (Measles being the other contender).
Not explicitly stated in the President’s letter is that most personal protective equipment (PPE) that citizens have immediate access to are cloth masks, which do not offer substantial protection against the Omicron variant of COVID-19. It is also the case that most citizens do not have at-home antigen testing kits nor experience using them.
It is the hope of the President and the FSM COVID-19 Task Force that the 22nd FSM Congress will consider extending the Declaration of Public Health Emergency to July 31st, and then consider passing the Healthy Border Protection Act in a Special Session of Congress in July 2022, so as to allow the FSM more time to vaccinate its citizens and prepare for the opening of the Nation’s borders.