By this time, Palau, though staying COVID-free is already feeling the pinch of the threats of COVID-19 to its economy.
With the absence of tourists, many businesses had to temporarily close their doors, some opting to reduce the hours of their employees. The government proposed assistance to its devastated tourism industry , through relief to its employees and business owners.
Globally, the number of coronavirus cases worldwide is over 1 million, with more than 51,000 deaths, according to new reports.
Palau’s closest neighbor , Guam now has 128 confirmed cases and 4 deaths. CNMI has 11 confirmed cases and 2 reported deaths. Hawaii has 442 confirmed cases and 6 deaths.
The United States of America as of April 9, had 427,460 confirmed cases and 14,696 total deaths according to the CDC report.
Nearly all international flights to Palau are suspended , inadvertently locking down the nation from the outside world.
Good news though, with Taiwan and United States help, Palau has been equipped to conduct onsite testing for COVID-19.
Random testing for Covid-19, started with at least 33 frontliners. And results were negative as health officials said they were aiming to ramp up the testing capacity to cover 500 individuals.
Palau’s Health Minister Emais Roberts said if more testing becomes available, they could carry out mass testing.
.On-site testings were made possible following the installation of key medical equipment and training which were completed over the weekend. It was delivered with the help of the Taiwanese government.
With a population of close to 18,000, Palau President Tommy Remengesau said in a statement that he wanted to see the country return to “some sense of normalcy” in his cabinet meeting with all Bureau Directors on April 13.
“As coronavirus testing resumes and our borders locked down, we have to come up with a plan for getting back to normal and allow for limited gatherings to ease public fears and apprehension,” the president has said at that time.
But while preparing to go back to normal due to the border closure, Taiwan meanwhile reported 22 new coronavirus cases from sailors who had recently visited Palau.
The report that the infection could have picked up in Palau was immediately shot down by both nations’ governments.
Palau’s Health Minister Emais Roberts issued a statement then after community fears of infection.
“It has been over a month since their visit and precautionary measures were taken at every event involving the cadets here in Palau”.
Dr Roberts sought to calm the public saying there was no no reason for Palau to panic. Since that time, there have been no reported cases at Palau’s hospital of patients with correlating symptoms.
President Remengesau also issued an Executive Order approving and mandating the Bureau of Public Service System (BPSS) to allow overtime and hazardous compensation for “exempt employees” and regular personnel responding to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Order authorizes BPSS to allow compensation of Temporary Hazardous Work compensation and overtime compensation.
Temporary Hazardous Pay according to the Bureau of Public Service System regulations means “occupation involves unusual and extreme hazards to their health and safety” and could be 15% to 25% of a person’s base salary based on whether the work is considered “most severe” or “severe”.
The planned repatriation of the stranded Palauan overseas has divided the nation.
President Tommy Remengesau Jr. and his cabinet are preparing for the return of Palau’s students and stranded overseas, Palau’s national congress, State Speakers, some state governors, Council of Chiefs and Mechesil Belau however sought to stop the repatriation of the first 50 citizens out of the 143 stranded outside of Palau.
Fear of potential cases coming to Palau through its returning citizens is driving the decisions to move to the stop flight on June 11. Despite 28 days quarantine, 14 in Guam and 14 in Palau and double testing in Guam and in Palau, national and state lawmakers and many citizens do not have the confidence that the virus won’t be brought in. The fear of that slim possibility of virus getting in despite all the screening processes causes these groups of leaders to ask the President to stop the arrival.
Globally, China, where the virus originated, has reported just one new infection and no deaths for the past five days.
This month, researchers at Pfizer and New York University said they have announced that they are working on a coronavirus vaccine.
By this time, according to John Hopkins University, confirmed coronavirus cases around the world surpassed 4 million with the global death toll reaching nearly 280,000.
Back in Palau, help is coming to the workers’ way with the Ministry of Finance disbursing $1.8 million dollar to 1,815 applicants of COVID-19 Relief assistance under CROSS Act.
Assistance to the workers , including non-citizens, include transfer of employment or temporary employment for affected employees. In addition, the government also funded temporary job programs in government agencies, semi-government agencies, NGOs or non-profit organizations.
Concessionary loans for employers were also made available through the program but will be administered by National Development Bank of Palau (NDBP). The loans if approved will have 0% for up to 2 years and after year 3, will be charged 2% on interest only and for 4 years up to 10 years will be 2% on principal and interest.
The relief measures under the CROSS Act will continue until January 31, 2021.
The United States has also provided Palau with a “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” program, a United States federal program to compensate those affected by the pandemic. This assistance is provided only to eligible Palauans, U.S citizens, and citizens of FSM and RMI.
Palau also continued testing for COVID-19.
By June, The World Health Organization made recommendations for the use of masks during the coronavirus pandemic, wearing of fabric masks were urged when social distancing is not possible, such as on public transportation and in shops.
In the United States, Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 110,000 and confirmed cases are over 2 million. New Zealand declared itself free of the coronavirus,
Worldwide, the virus crisis resulted in the most severe recession in nearly a century, according to an analysis of global economic data by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Moderna confirmed that it plans to start a trial of 30,000 volunteers.
In Palau, the government has successfully repatriated 58 Palau residents, 47 from Guam and 11 from Taiwan on June 10 and 12 respectively. Included in the 47 are college students from the University of Guam and stranded residents. The 11 from Taiwan include medical referral patients and their escorts.
According to information released from NEC, the chartered flights bringing them have implemented precautionary measures to reduce the risk of infection, including the use of masks, adequate spacing between passengers, and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
Before departing Guam and Taiwan (at least 72 hours prior), each passenger will have to have been tested negative of COVID-19. For those coming home from Guam, they would have finished a 14-day mandatory quarantine, monitored daily for symptoms. The quarantine facility in Guam is also being secured by private security and the National Guard.
The returning Palauans and citizens had to quarantine for 14 days on top of the seven day quarantine they had to go through in Guam. They also had to go through at least five tests for COVID-19 .
Palau Pacific Resort, an award-winning resort in Palau, temporarily closes its rooms and food & beverages services until September 30, 2020 due to COVID-19 impact.
Due to COVID-19 pandemic, all regular flights to Palau have been suspended and travel restrictions are imposed around the world. Such changes have drastically impacted the tourism industry. For the first time, Palau experienced zero tourists in the month of April of this year.
As a result of temporary closure, Palau Pacific Resort had released most of its 300 plus employees leaving only 47 to maintain the property and other remaining operations.
While Palau remains COVID-free a US Department of Interior report forecast that its economy will contract with GPD reduction of 22.3% in the next two years,d job losses numbering 3,128.
It predicts tourism will remain limited to the end of 2021, with 20% of its workers employed in the tourism industry, is expected to be the hardest hit. The reports predict a 51% reduction of tourists in 2020 and an additional 89% reduction in 2021.