Pohnpei officials arrested for breaching quarantine rules

[May 16, 2022] (L-R) Pohnpei Governor Reed B. Oliver with Acting Lt. Governor Christina Elnei. PHOTO: Pohnpei State Enginkehlap

Five Pohnpei officials, including the acting governor, were arrested last week after being criminally charged for allegedly bungling the quarantine protocols that resulted in an extended stay of repatriated passengers in an overcrowded and unsanitary facility in Dekehtik.

Charged in the FSM Supreme Court were Christina Elnei, acting governor; Norleen Oliver-DeOrio, chair of the Pohnpei COVID-19 Task Force; Patrick Carl, director of Public Safety; Patrick Pedrus, public information officer; and Peterson Sam, commissioner of the Pohnpei Public Broadcasting Corp.

The FSM national government filed charges consisting of more than 200 counts of criminal acts for breach of civil rights, false imprisonment, multiple violations of emergency decrees and standard operating procedures for COVID-19 quarantine, and the intentional disabling of the Medical Monitoring Area quarantine facility,

The national government alleged that the Pohnpei officials mishandled the quarantine procedures for 71 passengers who were repatriated from Guam on 12 June.

All repatriates, except for one, were assigned to the Emergency Medical Unit for the in-country quarantine. They were all pre-quarantined at a Guam facility prior to their departure on 11 June.

The repatriated passengers were among the hundreds of Micronesians who were stranded abroad when the FSM government shut down the nation’s borders in March 2020 following the president’s declaration of public health emergency at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to court filings, the quarantined passengers were all squeezed into 26 EMU rooms, resulting in “an unacceptable overcrowding of the lobby and hallway of the EMU, forcing travelers to sleep on the floor and with no provisions for clean water, beddings, bedsheets and pillows” and “no adequate bathroom facilities.”

The FSM government noted that prior to the repatriation, the state government claimed it was ready for the passengers’ arrival, yet the state COVID-19 task force “had instructed relevant parties not to prepare the second quarantine facility, the monitoring area, in advance of the repatriation flight.” 

“Hence, no cleanup and disinfection processes were conducted, even though the (monitoring area) quarantine manager was allegedly ready and willing to do so,” the FSM government said in a press release

As a result, the quarantine process at the monitoring area was “disrupted.”

According to the Office of the President, the national government eventually took the initiative to clean and disinfect the quarantine facility.

The overcrowding situation resulted in an “unnecessary extended quarantine from five days to seven days, with no fault on the part of the passengers,” whose civil rights were violated in the process, the FSM government said.

Following an interrogation by the FSM National Police, the state officials were detained on 16 June. The charges of civil rights violations under the FSM law correspond to a punishment of 10 years in prison.