The Bureau of Aviation (BOA) is implementing a quarantine-certificate system to manage incoming travelers, a system in which all passengers pay for their own airfare, but only some pay for quarantine.
The change is intended to start a movement away from private charter flights, and back towards a regular flight schedule.
“Private charter flights are strains on the resource and agencies that are managing [them],” said Peter Polloi, Special Adviser on Aviation, at the Fourth Annual Small Business Forum on November 12. “We want to move into a more ‘commercial-type’ basis.”
The certificate system involves online applications for travelers, which are screened by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and passed on to the Ministry of Health (MOH), who makes sure that there are enough quarantine rooms available.
Quarantine costs an average of $150 a day in Palau, which includes accommodation and three meals a day. According to the standards being put into place by the BOA, this is an expense which returning residents and visiting citizens will not have to pay, while essential and nonessential workers, as well as visiting non-citizens, will pay.
According to the BOA, the government is setting aside 400 quarantine rooms, with 100 reserved for the event of a positive case so that the MOH can perform contact tracing.
For now, the MOH will continue to require five-to-seven-day quarantine for visitors coming from Taiwan, where there has not been a recorded community-transmitted COVID case since April, and a fourteen-day quarantine for visitors coming from Guam, where cases are still in the hundreds.
“[In Guam] there are cases every day, and that kind of situation is a concern for the administration right now, and a concern for the health [of Palau],” said Mr. Polloi.
Many tourism operators have expressed the concern that the quarantine requirements, particularly the $150-a-day charge, will discourage travelers from visiting Palau, which is one of the government’s main motivations for restarting commercial flights. A proposed “travel bubble” between Palau and Taiwan last month temporarily fell through, allegedly due to this requirement.
However, representatives from the MOH have pointed out that the $150-a-day cost for quarantine is relatively cheap, compared to the $400-a-day quarantine cost in Saipan.
President-Elect Surangel Whipps Jr.’s Transition Committee has stressed that the incoming President is looking for ways to restart international travel.
Co-Chairman Kione Isechal of the Transition Committee said that the Committee will be working with the MOH to readdress quarantine protocols, particularly in light of the Pfizer vaccine, which the MOH hopes will be available in Palau by early next year. Mr. Isechal said that the President-Elect is hoping that the next three to four months will bring about solutions which allow more regular international flights.
Last Friday brought in a China Airlines flight from Taiwan bearing 63 passengers, including medical referral patients and escorts, as well as essential workers for the Airport Improvement Project and other government projects, who are all currently in quarantine. The flight left with 67 outbound passengers, including medical referral patients and escorts, and workers who have completed their work. The next planned charter flight is expected to arrive and leave between December 13 and 14.
A November 25th Air Asia flight, chartered through Surangel’s Worldwide Travel Corporation, is expected to repatriate Philippine nationals, while another at the end of the month will repatriate Chinese nationals. Both flights will only be taking passengers out of Palau, with no inbound passengers.