Year 2020 in review
The novel coronavirus outbreak which began in Wuhan , China in December, started making its way to other parts of the world in January. By January 27, given the rapidly increasing number of confirmed 2019 Novel coronavirus (nCoV) cases in the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and in Macau, the National Emergency Committee recommended to President Tommy E.Remengesau, Jr. to prohibit chartered flights from the People’s Republic of China and temporarily suspend all direct chartered flights from Hong Kong and Macau until further notice.
Palau also declared itself on high alert in response to COVID-19, which at that time has over 2,000 confirmed cases worldwide and claimed over 50 lives in the People’s Republic of China.
However, before the ban on flights from Mainland China, since January 23, the Ministry of Health and border control agencies have been implementing health screenings at the Palau International Airport, and Malakal Seaport.
To keep the virus at bay, Minister of Health Emais Roberts said they acted early to ensure to keep the virus away from Palau’s shore.
It was also the month where the public were encouraged to practice preventive measures such as regular hand washing, covering the mouth with a tissue or the upper-sleeve of your shirt when coughing and sneezing and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness.
Despite the news of the outbreak, during the first month of 2020, Palau was optimistic that the impact of the virus to the economy will not be as devastating with only the flights coming directly from Mainland China prohibited.
While China was Palau’s top market for years, the government was optimistic that it will be recover from the potential loss.
No one has anticipated that the outbreak will last the entire 2020.
By this time, the Ministry of Health is knocking on the doors of Congress for help to deal with the threat of the coronavirus which is still devastating the rest of the world.
While Palau has extended the prohibition of flights from China, its border remained open to Guam, Philippines, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.
The Ministry of Health is requesting an emergency funding support of $673,188.47 from the Olbiil Era Kelulau to continue monitoring 2019-nCoV and to prepare Palau in case it gets struck by the virus.
The money being asked is to cover supplies, overtime pay for staff that will be responsible for taking care of the infected patients.
Min. Roberts also issued a travel alert to all travelers to avoid “non-essential travel” to include Japan and South Korea. This expansion of travel alert is not part of the current Executive Order that prohibits travel to China, Macau and Hong Kong.
This expands the Ministry of Health’s travel alert issued on January 30th that alerted travelers to avoid non-essential travel to China, HongKong and Macau, now to include Japan and South Korea.
By this month, there have been 78,973 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) of which 76,936 are reported within mainland China.
Cases outside of China has risen to 2,037 in 32countries including Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, France, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan,Japan, Macau, South Korea, United States, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Nepal, Canada,Germany, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, United Arab Erimates, Finland, Russia, Italy, India, Sweden, Philippines, Spain, Belgium, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and Lebanon.
Palau continues to conduct health screening at airport and seaport for all arriving visitors to Palau and there are still thousands of travelers to Palau.
The COVID-19 coronavirus is still wreaking havoc on the tourism and travel industry around the world and here at home. In February, visitor arrivals showed a 43% drop and are expected to get worse. For comparison, in February of 2019, the total number of visitors was 9,776 while this February.
The tourists industry in Palau are also seeing cancellations from customers.
Work has also commenced between the government and private sector to assess the potential impact on the industry and to recommend measures that can be taken by the government to assist the private sector survive the impact.
Globally WHO announced this month that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus would be named COVID-19.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, noting that the virus has spread to all countries on the globe.
By March, the community was on edge after Palau health officials say they are monitoring a person as a possible case of Covid-19.
According to the Ministry of Health there is one person under investigation who has traveled to Palau from Guam in March and is showing symptoms of illness. The person is in isolation at the hospital.
At that time Palau had no capability to test for COVID-18 onsite.
United Airlines, which flies directly to Palau six times a week has announced that it will be reducing the number of its flights for Guam, Palau, Japan, Saipan and due to low demand caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
OEK also agreed this month to inject more money to the Ministry of Health (MOH) to deal with the impacts of the coronavirus.
In the approved bill both by the members of the Senate and the House of Delegates, the MOH will get total funding of $916,807.53 that will ensure that preventive measures will be implemented and at the same time continue with the day to day service of the ministry.
Health Minister Emais Roberts in his request for funding from the OEK said “there are no costs that can replace any human life let alone the lives of any Palauan from infancy to the elderly.”
This month was also when the coronavirus hit Palau’s closest neighbor- Guam.
President Remengesau issued a statement to assuage public fears after the news of 3 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported in Guam.
In the statement, the President assured Palauan citizens and residents that he understood and shared the same anxiety as they do with the “uncertainty about the consequences” if the virus is detected in Palau.
He assured that the “full resources of the national government are being used to respond to COVID-19”and that they seek to ensure safety and security of the public through daily transparent updates of information on the daily situation of the pandemic.
The schools also were ordered closed as a precaution against the global COVID-19 outbreak, according to government officials.
Along with the closure is the Ministry of Educatio’s ‘School Closure Contingency Plan.’
The plan includes the clean-up and sanitation of all school facilities and the development of lesson plans to cover any missed school days.
The school was also preparing for the likely extension of school closure.
The two-week school closure is part of Executive Order No. 437 signed by Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. earlier this week. The EO directs all government agencies to prevent and prepare for the entry of COVID-19 in Palau.
The Ministry of Health also issued a Certification of Unavoidable Public Health Emergency, which encourages ‘social isolation’ and self-quarantine. It also has a provision urging the public to avoid mass gatherings of fifty (50) or more people, including social, cultural, and sports events.
As of March several facilities have already been closed to comply with the directive, such as the senior citizen center in Koror.