As of December 21, 2020, there have been over 77 million cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide. Some nations have started COVID-19 vaccinations in the hope that it will spur the end of the pandemic.

COVID-19 vaccines hold promise for Palau to recover from the economic downturn brought about by the pandemic.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that Palau is on track to receive 2,800 doses of COVID-19 vaccines before the year’s end.

Gaafar Uherbelau, the Emergency Operations Center Deputy Incident Commander of the MOH, said that  Palau can expect to receive doses of the vaccine by around December 26, and according to plans, start administering the vaccine by Jan. 11.

Good news to the Freely Associated States (FAS) citizens, residing in the United States, as they may soon become eligible for the US Medicaid program after the US congress passes the corona virus relief and year-end funding package.

US Medicaid, funded by US states and federal government, provides health coverage for low income, elderlies, pregnant women, children and people with disabilities in the United States. Micronesians or Compact of Free Association (COFA) citizens are currently not eligible for the program but in the draft coronavirus package, the language has been inserted to include citizens of COFA nations.

Meanwhile President-elect Surangel Whipps Jr. with his Economic Recovery subcommittee is pushing to secure travel between Palau and Taiwan through a “sterile corridor” plan before the vaccination for COVID-19 is implemented.

“We need to look at all the options to protect and to help our people.  We are very appreciative of the U.S. Government for prioritizing Palau with vaccinations. We are doing all we can to assist with logistical support so they can bring in as many vaccinations as possible, so our people can be vaccinated and feel safe.  Nonetheless, the availability of the vaccine is a separate issue from securing travel between Palau and Taiwan,” said President-elect in a press release issued.

Meanwhile, Minister of Health Dr. Emais Roberts recommended that Palau exercise patience just a little bit more and wait for the vaccination to finish.  He said that although Taiwan has been successful containing covid-19 at its borders and have not reported local transmission in over 200 days, it is not covid-free, only covid safe. 

President Remengesau in a letter earlier urged Taiwan to ease its quarantine requirements for travelers from Palau and said that he shares president-elect Whipps frustration on slow movement from Taiwan.  He did say that the Taiwan Embassy in Palau is very understanding of the situation but the process in Taiwan requires Taiwan CDC and its health agency to approve the changes and that is slow moving. 

Meanwhile a Chinese fishing vessel and its 28 crew have been detained in Palau for illegally harvesting sea cucumber.  It was intercepted by a patrol boat at Helen Reef, in Palau’s territorial waters, and escorted to Koror.

Palau had to balance the risk of the crew bringing coronavirus and making accountable those who broke Palau’s laws.

Globally, Christmas might be a little different this year but several activities in Palau continue to bring cheer to the people.

Operation Christmas Drop proceeded in dropping gifts and supplies to the islands of Palau.  The Christmas Drop took place in Koror, Kayangel, Peleliu, Angaur, Sonsorol, and Pulo Anna. This was the first year that a drop took place in Koror State.

Operation Christmas Drop has been an annual tradition since 1952, in which US Air Force personnel fly over various islands in the Micronesian region and drop packages attached to parachutes, filled with toys, food, clothing, and other supplies. The drop involves four Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft and a Japan Air Self-Defense Force C-130H Hercules, which took off from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam.

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