After nearly 18 months of successfully keeping COVID-19 virus out, Palau gets its first two positive cases of COVID-19, both of which are travel-related cases.
Two Palauan passengers whose flights originated from mainland United States, arrived in Palau on United Airlines flight that connected via Guam on August 15. The two passengers, per Palau required entry protocol, were fully vaccinated and showed proof of negative PCR test for COVID-19 72 hours prior to boarding the plane. After arriving in Palau on August 15th, they were given Restriction of Movement order and were tested on Day 5 of their arrival. Their Day 5 antigen test showed positive results for COVID-19. Both travelers were placed in isolation and contact tracing commenced.
News of positive cases spread quickly via social media as well as radio and television setting off reactions from the public.
President Surangel Whipps Jr. went live on tv, radio and YouTube to address the nation, confirming reports of positive cases and calling for calm, assuring the people that all measures were being taken to ensure their safety and well-being.
Not everyone was assured and some people went on social media to express their fears, frustrations as well as anger over what they perceived to be government prioritizing economic well-being over the health of the people.
The expressions of fears and concerns from the public were not as severe as the reactions from first and second PUI (Person Under Investigation) cases last year where there were threats made to persons who were suspected of being positive cases or from the first repatriation flights to Palau where half of national leadership convened to try to stop the repatriation flights from happening.
Still, the announcements of positive cases this time did trigger heated responses. One such outburst from a resident expat who expressed explicitly his feelings about President Whipps’s handling of the crisis, received a backlash from supporters of Whipps and from those that felt that the tone of the criticism was disrespectful to Palau. Many took exceptions to the tone of the criticism as insensitive to the Palauan culture of respect rather than the concerns expressed.
However, fear of COVID-19 is real to many and yesterday, the first day of school after the reported cases, nearly 70 students were kept home from school by parents worried about their kids getting sick.
People, without prompting from the Ministry of Health, began wearing masks out in public and in gatherings. In some of the schools, teachers and students were wearing masks. Some business establishments including public entities such as PNCC and PPUC sent out public notices telling people that they must wear masks to enter their establishments.
In response, Whipps reactivated EOC (Emergency Operation Center), requested assistance of experts from United States and held a national leadership briefing as well as special press conference yesterday to address questions and concerns about these cases.
President Whipps said he understood that people were afraid but he emphasized that Palau has been preparing itself for the past 18 months to handle this scenario and that necessary measures have been taken to protect Palau’s population from getting severely sick or die from COVID-19.