Many people agreed with Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's administration when she decided last week that Guam cannot let the cruise ship MS Westerdam, part of the Holland America Line fleet, pull into our island's only civilian seaport.
Jitters felt globally over the rapidly spreading new coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, prompted ports in Manila and Japan to turn away the cruise ship. Guam became the third destination to decline the cruise ship's request to make a stopover. Taiwan followed Guam, and finally, yesterday, after the cruise ship was aimlessly adrift for more than a week, Cambodia allowed entry.
One of the main reasons several destinations rejected the Westerdam was that of the more than 1,400 passengers on the cruise ship, about 800 had recently boarded from Hong Kong. The cruise ship did state last week that not a single case of contagion from the virus has been found onboard.
Still, Guam's governor felt it was better to be safe than sorry. And it was a decision many supported and concurred with.
"Passengers may be infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus," the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration stated a week ago in announcing the decision to reject the Westerdam even after the State Department asked for the cruise ship to be allowed to dock on Guam.
But in perhaps a contradictory move for Guam, the Hong Kong Men’s National Basketball Team will be allowed to visit Guam in a tournament that serves as a qualifier for FIBA, the international basketball federation. The team from Hong Kong is set to arrive on Feb. 20.
Guam, in accordance with U.S. travel rules in response to the virus outbreak, has banned the entry of foreigners who have had a history of travel from China 14 days before their entry date into Guam or other parts of the United States.
Arrivals from Hong Kong are still allowed into Guam and other U.S. destinations, although some nations have banned arrivals from Hong Kong as well.
Guam no longer has direct scheduled flights from Hong Kong and no charter flights from Hong Kong have been scheduled to arrive on Guam as of Wednesday, according to the Guam airport agency.
Passenger arrivals from Hong Kong to Guam would then have to go through transit points such as Manila or South Korea.
Based on answers to The Guam Daily Post's query, there is no plan to give the visiting Hong Kong national team health scrutiny at the Guam airport upon arrival – unless they show flu-like symptoms.
The Department of Public Health and Social Services health screening will kick in only when a passenger displays symptoms, according to a response from GovGuam.
It doesn't make sense for Guam to turn away a cruise ship that boarded passengers from Hong Kong and then welcome a sports team – also from Hong Kong – without precautionary health scrutiny upon arrival of everyone on the team.
The contradiction stands out. And it might be time to refine Guam's new coronavirus readiness plan.
Waiting for symptoms to manifest might be too great of a risk to take – considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated some patients may not show symptoms of the pneumonia-like disease for 14 days.
We understand this health challenge is new to places across the globe.
And while Guam still doesn't have a single confirmed case of the virus, it helps to continue to discuss ways to tighten and revisit the measures to protect our island from getting the virus.
Given that local officials have acknowledged the arrival of the new coronavirus on Guam may be a matter of when – rather than if it does reach here – we do need to continue to think about how to close the gaps that could lead to the virus' arrival sooner rather than later.
We need to buy time before the virus gets here.
Every day and every corrective action will count.