COVID-free Marshall Islands prepares to rejoin the world

PHOTO: RMI Ministry of Health

The Marshall Islands will remove it’s managed quarantine system after October 1st.

The Marshall Islands is one of only a handful of nations left in the world that is COVID free and has remained so due to strict entry requirements, including a 14-day government-managed quarantine rule. About one-third of repatriation groups quarantining in both Majuro and Kwajalein earlier this month tested positive for COVID while in government facilities, underlining why the country’s system has worked to keep the Marshall Islands Covid-free.

COVID Roadmap

A two-day COVID Summit was called in the wake of President David Kabua and his Cabinet endorsing a National Disaster Committee-proposed Roadmap for re-opening Marshall Islands borders after over two-and-a-half-years.

The summit focused on details of the COVID Roadmap, provided updates on safety in the workplace, and reviewed government plans for operating once COVID spreads.

Once Marshall Islands borders are open without managed quarantine, COVID will arrive and spread as it has in virtually every country in the world. Neighboring Federated States of Micronesia, which has announced a plan to open its borders on August 1st, and the Marshall Islands are two of only a handful of nations that are still COVID-free.

The U.S Centres for Disease Control recently forecast, based on the experience in other U.S-affiliated islands, that in the first wave of COVID, about one in four residents of the Marshall Islands will be infected and nearly 30 are likely to die.

Marshalls’ Ministry of Health and Human Services had urged the government to maintain managed quarantine to keep the Marshall Islands COVID-free. NDC Chairperson Chief Secretary Kino Kabua and a majority of Marshall Islands Secretaries who make up the National Disaster Committee voted in favor of a recently drafted Roadmap for reopening the borders and ending managed quarantine.

The Roadmap notes the Ministry of Health and Human Services’ target for getting 95% of the population vaccinated against COVID. It is currently at about 75%, with vaccinations for six months to five-year-old children to commence later this month.

“This vaccination inoculation target still has not been achieved, and will most likely not be met before October 1st, but projections for the coming months forecast an increase in this vaccination coverage,” said the Chief Secretary’s office in a statement issued this week. “The Cabinet approved the Roadmap, a living document, that will serve as a guideline for the Marshall Islands government and as an information tool for the general public.”

The two-step Roadmap will reduce quarantine at Kwajalein and Majuro to 10 days effective immediately through the end of September. After October 1st, borders are to open without requiring managed quarantine.

Anyone wanting to come to Marshall Islands now and after October 1st must be fully vaccinated and show a negative COVID PRC test within 24 hours of their flight and receive a rapid antigen test on arrival in the country. After October 1st, inbound people are required to quarantine in their homes for five days, with a COVID rapid antigen test on day five.

COVID forecast

Commenting on the plan to open the country’s borders, Speaker Kenneth Kedi said it was a reasonable date to consider for opening. But, he added, the Marshall Islands should monitor closely the Federated States of Micronesia’s border opening in August. “If successful there, we should follow it,” he said. “If not, then we should reconsider opening in October.”

He said he was sure there would be concern from the public and he urged the National Disaster Committee to educate the public by going out in the communities to let people know about the Roadmap and about the success of COVID vaccines in preventing illness from the virus.

The U.S Centres for Disease Control forecasts the Marshall Islands is likely to see nearly 25% of residents test positive for COVID and 28 of those will die during an initial wave of COVID. The modeling exercise is part of CDC’s ongoing support to the Marshall Islands and other US-affiliated islands as they prepare for and respond to COVID when it arrives.

The model generated by CDC shows that from the time that the first community cases are confirmed, it will take about three weeks for a surge of COVID cases to start. Within 10 days of the surge starting, Marshall Islands will see the number of positive COVID cases spike from just a handful each day to nearly 400 positive cases daily. This high number of cases will continue for a three-week period before the numbers begin slowly to drop off. After about 10 weeks, the wave will drop off to between 30 and 50 positive cases daily, according to the CDC forecast.

The Ministry of Health and Human Services has been practicing for the rollout of triage sites at gymnasiums around Majuro to handle the influx of people needing COVID testing and initial treatment in order to reduce the flow of COVID-positive people into the hospital.