Palau, this week, raised its level of response to the COVID-19 coronavirus threat through number of directives aimed at preventing and containing COVID-19after the reports of positive cases in the neighboring island of Guam and the Philippines.

“We must do everything we can, first of all, to prevent it from coming in and at the same time, prepare ourselves for it if it gets here, and that is what has been done since January 23 until now,” said Vice President RaynoldOilouch, Chairman of the National Emergency Committee, on the possibility of the coronavirus COVID-19 reaching Palau’s shores.

Minister of Health Dr. Emais Roberts issued the Public Health EmergencyDirective 60-20, Certification of Unavoidable Public Health Emergency saying that “a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach is necessary and warranted in order to effectively prevent and contain the threat of COVID-19.”

By declaring the Public Health Emergency, it enabled the Ministry of Health to implement measures aimed at preventing and containing potential spread of the virus.

On Monday, March 23, all schools in Palau will close for two weeks.  Ministry of Education in compliance with the public health emergencydirective issued its own Directive 01-20, informing stakeholders that ALL schools will be closed for two weeks starting Monday.

MOE directive urge thestudents to stay at home and mandate all schools to undergo clean up. It also requires mitigation plansto be developed during the closure period to prepare for when schools reopen, to address missed school work during closure and to create contingency plans for possible prolonged closure.

In addition, the Declaration of Public Health Emergency empowers the Minister of Health to access funds from the Hospital Trust Fund to do what needs to be done.

An alternative site to house potential COVID-19 positive patients has been acquired by Ministry of Health and National Emergency Committee.  Isolation rooms in the hospital are being prepared for potential serious cases.  “We are working on preparing the rooms.  They are not yet fully equipped but we are doing our best with what we have to prepare them,” reported Minister Emais Roberts.

An alternative screening site has also been set up outside of the hospital complex for screening potential cases away from general patient population.

Through the Public Health Emergency Directive, Belau National Hospital Emergency Operations Plan has been activated.  This place restrictions within the hospital such as reducing chronic diseases clinics, reducing visitation hours, postponing or rescheduling high risk patients’ appointments except for emergencies, and suspending all travel of medical staffs among others.

“We do not have test kits COVID-19 or the machine to read them,” said Minister Emais Roberts.  “We have asked our international partners but there is a delay as they too are facing the same situation. To have a working testing facility, requires technical expertise to install the machine and train people to use it.  We have requested but we don’t know when it can be done,” added Roberts.

The nearest areas with testing capacities are Guam and Taiwan.  Due to stoppage of China Airline flights to Palau next week, only Guam will be the nearest available site for testing according to Minister Roberts.

While Palau was putting in place measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 this week, almost all of the airlines with services to Palau announced suspension of flights and one drastically reducing number of its flights.

“It will hurt our tourism of course but at the same time, it helps to reduce the risk of the virus coming into Palau,” expressed Vice President Oilouch, NEC Chairman.

President Remengesau Jr. said that the Ministry of Health’s declaration of Public Health Emergency is all the tool needed to address the situation.  “Declaration of the National Emergency will only enable the President to access money and make laws to address the emergency.  There is no need here because OEK has approved a budget to fund the emergency and there are laws in place that enables the Minister of Health to accomplish what is needed here.”

Remengesau continue to urge people not to panic and to remain calm while addressing the crisis. “We make rash and poorly thought-out decisions when we are panicked, so let’s be calm and make proper decisions,” stated President Remengesau.