Guam, Palau work to bring travelers home

TESTING: Nurse Rona Santos performs a COVID-19 nasal swab test at the Department of Public Health and Social Services Central Public Health Center in Barrigada Heights during drive-thru testing Monday, June 8. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

The government of Palau is working to bring more than 50 stranded citizens back home with the help of Guam's government.

A majority of the returning passengers are college students and some medical patients who weren't able to return home before passenger flights were no longer allowed into the republic.

The Department of Public Health and Social Services held testing on Monday for Palauan citizens as local officials are working to help Palau repatriate its citizens. None of the tests returned with positive results, according to local and Palauan officials. There will be three charter flights, the first of which is scheduled to depart Guam on June 11. Before their departure, they would have undergone a second test.

In Palau they will undergo another 14 days of quarantine and be tested twice more, and "if they pass these third and fourth tests, they will be released and be required to home quarantine for an additional 14 days, stated President Thomas Remengesau Jr. The rather rigorous process aims to keep the small island nation free of COVID-19.

"Palau is a very small (and) vulnerable population ... and have very limited capacity and resources," the president told Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, Dr. Thane Hancock of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health experts during a meeting last week as they finalized plans for the stranded group's return.

The Palau government has been assisting the stranded students and Palauan residents with their hotel stays and stipends to assist with their food and other needs. But the Palauan leadership 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."

There have been debates among the Palauan leadership – primarily between the executive and legislative bodies. The former has been working on a process that would allow the stranded Palauans to return home while ensuring the public's safety.

Gov. Leon Guerrero said she understands the concerns.

"As you know, our cases started as a result of travelers coming to Guam," she said, noting that measures, including quarantining and testing, have been put in place. "I just want to assure you, believe me I know it's scary ... but if we know our risks and we can mitigate our risks, it just gives us a greater confidence in living our lives as normal as we can."

Leon Guerrero reassured Palauan leaders that quarantined passengers, including those soon-to-be-homebound passengers, are isolated away from the local community.

"I'll bet you dinner that those that we are going to test will be negative," she said, referring to the testing process.

The president thanked Gov. Leon Guerrero, Public Health and others who are assisting with the testing and monitoring of the Palauan citizens.

"We are COVID-free but we can't stay closed forever," the president stated, adding that the governor's reassurances are appreciated.

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