“There is No Need for Alarmism and Fear, Which Undermines Trust & Confidence, and Our Self-Evident Success: We Remain COVID-19 Free”, President Panuelo Says.
PALIKIR, Pohnpei – On May 2nd, 2020, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) became aware of a press release from the Government of the FSM State of Pohnpei entitled “Urgent and Breaking News from the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force” which, amongst its contents, describes a scenario allegedly involving the crew of the Federated States Ship (FSS) Independence, one of the Nations’ patrol boats. The FSM National Government is aware and sensitive to the anxiety and fear this has caused to the citizens restlessly searching for answers. The purpose of this release is to allay those anxieties and fears, with the objective of calming citizens’ concerns and building a sense of trust and confidence in our Nation’s efforts to prevent and reduce the risk of COVID-19’s introduction into the FSM. Our collective efforts to date have been successful, as the FSM remains a COVID-19 free country.
Previously, on April 11th, 2020, after a successful rescue mission from Oroluk Atoll as requested by Pohnpei State Government, the FSS Micronesia arrived into Pohnpei State wherein the individuals on board were quarantined for approximately ten to eleven (10-11) days. Following this incident, the Honorable Joses R. Gallen, Secretary of the Department of Justice, subsequently met with Pohnpei State Government to discuss interstate transportation and the National Government’s mandates to uphold the January 31st, 2020 Public Health Emergency Declaration instituted by His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the FSM.
On April 27th, 2020, Secretary Gallen met with Pohnpei State Government to determine how sovereign vessels would be handled by the Task Force in light of Pohnpei State’s own Constitutional Emergency Declaration and the FSM National Government’s Public Health Emergency Declaration. During the meeting, Secretary Gallen presented documentation that the National Government would enforce all crew receiving a health check, inclusive of their daily temperature, immediately prior to departure from an FSM port. Additional components included a report detailing any at-sea interactions the vessel may have had with other vessels whilst at sea, as certified by the Commander of the Border Control and Maritime Surveillance Division. Finally, on arrival in port, Pohnpei State health officials would conduct an independent health assessment of all crew members and check all supplied documentation.
The information was warmly received by the Honorable Feliciano Perman, Lieutenant Governor of the FSM State of Pohnpei. In a subsequent Pohnpei State Task Force meeting, the plan was agreed to, and the Pohnpei State Acting Attorney General, the Honorable Monalisa Abello-Pangelinan, advised FSM Assistant Attorney General Abigail Avoryie of the State’s agreement and suggested a written response was forthcoming. The National Government notes that this was the fourth attempt on behalf of the Nation to reach a satisfying arrangement with the State Government.
On Friday, May 1st, 2020, at approximately 8:00am, the FSS Independence arrived in Pohnpei State. Pohnpei State Government was aware of the vessel’s arrival several days in advance and made no request for a list of individuals on board. (The President also discussed interstate travel with the Nation’s Governors in a teleconference on April 29th, 2020.) Individuals on board the Independence included sixteen (16) FSM Maritime Police Officers, six (6) FSM Investigative & Protective Services National Police officers, in addition to one Assistant Attorney General and the Public Health Hospital Emergency Preparedness Trainer who was deployed to assist Chuuk Department of Health Services in Chuuk in their Risk Communication and Community Engagement activities during this COVID-19 Pandemic. All individuals on board were essential emergency personnel. No private civilians (i.e. passengers) were on board.
All individuals on board the FSS Independence possessed health screening documentation from Yap State and/or Chuuk State depending on their origination. Multiple communications were sent from the FSM Department of Justice to the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force inquiring when the doctors would do screening in Pohnpei State; all inquiries were unanswered, and at no point in a 30- hour period did any medical staff arrive to visit the vessel. Pohnpei State Government is in receipt of the health screening forms from Yap State and Chuuk State for all individuals who were on the Independence.
Responding to the lack of attention by Pohnpei State to screen the individuals on the vessel, the FSM National Government took it upon itself to implement the medical screening. As of today, May 3rd, 2020, all individuals who left the Independence have been screened in Pohnpei State by FSM National Government frontline medical staff except for the Public Health Hospital Emergency Preparedness Trainer. The Honorable Livingston Taulung, Secretary of the FSM Department of Health & Social Affairs, advised that—based on this health screening—no individuals are showing symptoms consistent with those found in COVID-19. The Public Health Hospital Emergency Preparedness Trainer is voluntarily quarantined at China Star Hotel, and doctors will screen him on May 4th, 2020.
The FSM National Police who arrived to release some of the individuals from the Independence did carry firearms, but this is standard procedure; all FSM National Police carry weapons during operations, which is part of their mandate to protect and serve the Nation and its citizens. However, contrary to the assertion by the press release from the Government of the FSM State of Pohnpei entitled “Urgent and Breaking News from the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force” that there was a “breach of security and quarantine,” the FSM National Police cleared security and then departed through the FSM Maritime Wing’s gate without any disturbance or protest.
Congressional Resolution 21-138, which augments the Declaration of Public Health Emergency instituted by His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the FSM, does not require quarantine for interstate travel, particularly for essential workers like the ones on the FSS Independence, “as long as there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within any of the FSM States.”
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the FSM at this time; nor are there any Persons Under Investigation at this time, either.
The FSM COVID-19 Task Force recognizes that the Pohnpei COVID-19 Task Force has allegedly chosen to avoid adopting all of the terms of Congressional Resolution 21-138, such as allowance for interstate travel. The FSM National Government respectfully reminds all citizens that State Governments do not have the authority to supersede the National Government in this area. It is noted that only the FSM National Government has the authority to secure the Nation’s borders, including designated ports of entry—both air and sea—amongst other powers exclusive to the National Government.
The FSM National Government recognizes that Pohnpei State Government is ultimately and sincerely concerned for the health and wellbeing of its residents—a concern which the National Government shares completely and without any hesitation or reservation.
“I am ultimately responsible for every activity that occurs within our borders,” President Panuelo said in a statement. “In all times, be they in times of peace or in times of crisis, it is of paramount importance that the National and State Governments act in unison with the view to enhance trust and confidence in our public servants’ capacity to protect and serve the citizens and residents of this Paradise in Our Backyards. I will repeat that all the individuals on the FSS Independence were, and are, essential workers serving to protect each and every one of you—they are not ‘passengers’, but, rather, ‘public servants’ in the capacity of police officers and surveillance crews. With the contemporary prevention of COVID-19 in reaching our shores and the implementation of the COVID-19 Response Framework, the FSM National Government has and continues to abide by its responsibilities to serve and protect our Nation and its people.”
“There is no need for alarmism and fear, which undermines trust and confidence, and our self- evident success: we remain COVID-19 free. I encourage all citizens, and perhaps Pohnpei State Government as well, to not submit to fear and anxiety, and to instead find solace in communicating their thoughts and concerns. For Government officials, I recommend this occur through proper channels; for our public, I welcome your continued participation in your democracy, and encourage you to submit your views on the FSM National Government’s response to the COVID-19
Pandemic through my PIO Richard Clark, who you may email at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach by calling 320-2548.”