June 8 – One of the worst effects of COVID-19 has been the way it separates people from their families. For that reason, Palau has launched a humanitarian mission to repatriate those residents and students who have been “stranded” outside Palau. This repatriation will take place through three charter flights, which are open only to returning residents and students who have gone through Palau’s rigorous testing process. Those residents and students who can afford to support themselves outside are encouraged to do so. However, they are cautioned that government funds have already been committed to and expended on this repatriation effort. The government cannot commit to indefinitely support Palauans living abroad.
The first group of residents and students has voluntarily entered a 14-day quarantine on Guam, where they are now secured by private security and the National Guard. Every person in quarantine has tested negative for COVID-19, and a second round of testing will occur tomorrow. If the second test also comes in negative, this first group of residents and students will arrive early Friday morning June 12.
When they arrive in Palau they will be transported directly to government-designated quarantine facilities, where they will be held another 14 days and tested two more times. If they pass these third and fourth tests, they will be released at the end of this second 14 day period. Throughout both 14 day quarantines, returning residents and students are receiving regular medical checkups for symptoms of COVID-19.
Upon release from quarantine in Palau, returning residents and students will be ordered to home-quarantine for an additional 14 days. They will receive a final COVID-19 test at the end of this period: 28 days after their return to Palau.
This is not an easy repatriation process. For 28 days these people will be living in almost total isolation, and even after that ends they will be home-quarantined for an additional 14 days. Several people have declined to participate in this arduous process, despite the challenges they face being stranded abroad. Those who have dropped out have made their choice, and it is an understandable choice given the difficulty of this process. According to Minister of State Faustina Rehuher-Marugg, “those who are sticking with this difficult plan do so for one of two reasons: either they truly have no other place to stay, or they truly need to be back here at home. When they complete this process, and finally return home against such high odds, they should be welcomed by their Palauan family.”
“Meanwhile,” the Minister continued,“our hearts are with those who cannot complete this process, or do not qualify for it. We look forward to the resumption of regular international travel, and of our normal lives.”When asked about the Government expense on this project, Minister Marugg mentioned “many of these residents and students spent money on their own plane tickets home, and those tickets were cancelled without their say. They have also spent a lot of money supporting themselves for these last months. This is their home and if they want to come back, we have to help them. It is the right thing to do.”