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An Opinion on this Pandemic by a Concerned Citizen

As the world has been tossed into chaos, we are truly blessed to still be COVID-FREE here in Palau. For a majority of us, life may not have seemed to change too much. Perhaps your work life has actually slowed down and perhaps you got a chance to spend more time with your family during the lock downs. Perhaps you have even had more time to start exercising, eating healthier and generally taking better care of your health. Understandably, it probably hasn’t been too easy to be a parent and simultaneous tutor during the lockdowns, but at least school is almost over and at least there is summer vacation starting now. Still, even with the hardships of being stuck at home, life isn’t too bad for most Palauans. Many are happy that there aren’t tourists around, so they are taking this time to go fishing and rightfully enjoy our beautiful rock islands. Most Palauans work for the government, so most probably still have a job right now. For reference, that is close to 30% of our workforce employed under Public Administration according to Table 4.6 of the ROP 2018 Statistical Yearbook. That percentage is based on the 3,230 employees out of 11,896 listed under public administration, the largest single employer in No wonder no one wants to let Palauans who are not sick and are more than willing to go through the necessary testing and quarantine process, back into their own country.

Even though a majority may not be affected as directly and/or severely by the coronavirus situation here in Palau, there are others who are. I’m talking about the Palauans stranded in Guam and other parts of the world who didn’t manage to catch the last flight home. I’m talking about all the students here who perhaps don’t have a good home environment and have had to endure hardships like lack of food and abuse at home while school were closed. I’m talking about the hospital and the staff that have had to stress about preparing for the worst-case scenario in a matter of weeks. I’m talking about all those people that work in the travel industry and the majority of foreign domestic workers (not in construction) who have probably lost their jobs, forcing some to return to their own countries. I’m also talking about those who have medical conditions that need treatment but have had to be put on hold as travel regulations and medical centers are only focused on treating coronavirus patients right now. And I’m talking about those small businesses that have closed down or are on the verge of closing down because they don’t have any income to keep their operations going.

This article is not in defense of reopening Palau, rather it aims to address the underlying issues and weaknesses in our society that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed, in order for us to actually BE PREPARED and BE SAFE. The idea for this article has arisen largely from conversations about coronavirus and what should happen where most Palauans I talk to end the conversation saying, “Well you know Palau can’t handle it, so it’s better if we stayed closed” or “Think of all the elderly and sick people in Palau who would be at risk if we open up”. This mindset, though very well-intentioned, is not seeking solutions and thereby overlooking the real underlying issues that this coronavirus has exposed in our society. It’s time for all of us to WAKE UP!

The questions I would really like to know the answer to is this: In light of COVID-19, what is Palau going to do? Are we going to sit and wait for a vaccine? Or are we going to be proactive and FIX

the weak aspects of our society in order to be able to deal with a pandemic like this now and into the future? You see these are two very different approaches. I’m going to delve into this second one as I feel like a majority in my country wants to sit and wait, since they clearly don’t even want to let their own citizens return home, much less open up to the world before a vaccine is available. So realistically this might mean another 12-18 months. I would like to shift the conversation about waiting (WHEN?) to a conversation about doing (WHAT?). So here’s a more pragmatic approach, starting with the facts:

  1. Coronavirus is
  2. Coronavirus can be Currently it has a global mortality rate of 6.25% (Source: Google News). Though everyone is at risk to get the virus, it is those with serious underlying medical conditions that are more at risk for severe illness (Source: Center for  Disease Control).
  3. Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon and we need to find a “new normal”.
  4. Palau has to cope with the situation in the short-term and in the long-term.
  5. Palau currently doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with
  6. A majority  of  our  population  is  pre-disposed  and  have  serious  underlying  medical conditions, and are therefore largely at

It’s important to point out that Numbers 1-4, are obvious facts that we can admit but can’t necessarily change. Where as numbers 5-6 are obvious facts that NEED TO BE CHANGED. So let me spell it out for you.

Number 5, if Palau currently doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with the coronavirus, shouldn’t the first question we be asking be, how do we prepare Palau to deal with coronavirus? It isn’t just about testing people, it is about treating them too. I commend the best efforts of our health leaders to get the kits we needed for testing and some supplies for treatment. In light of this I am sorry to say, but 15 ventillators just isn’t good enough! And treating 50 people at a time isn’t going to cut it! So I’m just going to say what we all are thinking, perhaps it has even been repeated too often; but now, more than ever before: WE NEED A NEW HOSPITAL AND WE NEED IT NOW. Our national hospital needs to be equipped with the technology, supplies and staff to deal with this pandemic and any future pandemics. Not only that, but it should be able to treat people for other illnesses or emergencies. It is seriously a disappointment to society when people nickname their only hospital, “The place you go if you want to die”. I am not an economist, nor am I a medical person. I don’t understand where the money goes, but clearly it isn’t going to the place that needs it MOST. We need to hold our government leaders accountable at all costs. After all, it is our LIVES that are at stake here.

Number 6, if a majority of our population is pre-disposed and at risk for coronavirus, here are some solutions. First, we can reverse the trend of declining life-expectancy due to lifestyle diseases, in addition to childhood and adolescent obesity. Heart disease and diabetes are well- known LIFESTYLE diseases. That means that if you change what you EAT and what you DO, you change the course of your life. Spend money on what is truly important. Your health is your wealth. Fish and fresh local vegetables is all you need. If it was good enough for our ancestors, it

is good enough for you. Secondly, exercise with all this free time you have, go on a walk and breath fresh air. It’s free and you will feel better. The truth is no one can force people to change their own life, this change has to happen from within. But please, do not only rely on vaccines and pills to cure your ailments and give you an excuse to continue killing yourself overtime. BE PROACTIVE and TAKE CHARGE of the course of your own life.

Lastly, I find that it is not helpful to approach this situation with fear. Rather, let’s take this time to reimagine new ways of living, new ways of being. Let’s fix our homes, let’s fix our country, and let’s fix ourselves! Though coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, let’s not be passive bystanders of our lives. Let us make all the necessary fixes and hold our leaders accountable. Afterall, we live on an island, but we cannot live “like an island” in isolation, forever.