RMI official says travel ban ‘absolutely necessary’

Jack Niedenthal, Secretary of the Ministry of Health and other health officials bared plans made by the government to strengthen its internal public health infrastructure, including the construction of a quarantine facility in the Arrak campus of the College of the Marshall Islands and isolation wards at the Majuro hospital.

With the Marshall Islands still in the middle of addressing a dengue fever outbreak, a Ministry of Health official says enforcing a total inbound travel ban for two weeks was absolutely necessary for a country still working on strengthening its public health infrastructure.

The Marshall Islands government started enforcing the air travel suspension on March 8 to protect the community from the COVID-19 global outbreak. Planes that require refueling en route to other destinations will be allowed to land in the airport provided that they follow the RMI Ports Authority’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

One of the SOPs is the prohibition of human-to-human contact while refueling in the Marshall Islands. 

Jack Niedenthal, Secretary of the Ministry of Health, said that they are asking people not to travel to the Marshall Islands for now. He said the travel ban applies to all inbound flights, so all passengers from international ports including Guam, Fiji, Pohnpei, or any other neighboring destination will not be allowed to deplane. 

Marshall Islands residents can still fly out to other destinations but wouldn’t be able to enter until the ban is lifted on March 22.

In a statement sent to PNC, Niedenthal says the Marshall Islands have been in an 8-month State of Health Emergency because of dengue fever and they can’t risk battling two diseases at once until the country is fully prepared.

“This won’t be forever, but for now we are asking that people be patient and not plan on coming to the RMI for at least 2 weeks.  We also have people with hugely compromised immune systems here from diabetes, TB, cancer and hypertension,” he said.

Niedenthal also posted on social media: “Residents, RMI Citizens and potential visitors residing in the United States of America are strongly advised to cancel all travel to the RMI. The RMI is still in the process of building infrastructure and capacity to respond effectively to COVID-19. Health facilities in the United States are far more capable of managing a large outbreak of cases.”

As of Feb 23, nearly 3,000 dengue-like illness have been identified in the country. Out of that number, nearly 1,400 have been laboratory confirmed as dengue fever.