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Marshall Islands extends inbound travel ban

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MAJURO — The Marshall Islands extended its ban on all incoming travelers for another month “because Covid-19 is a national threat,” said the latest travel advisory issued by Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal Thursday.

The extension prohibits all inbound travel until June 5 and discourages Marshall Islands residents from traveling abroad. The Marshall Islands remains one of fewer than 20 nations globally without a confirmed case of Covid-19.

U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Roxanne Cabral, center, joined with Marshall Islands President David Kabua and his Cabinet Thursday in Majuro to officially present $5.9 million in US aid under the Covid-19 CARES Act that includes funding for Covid-19 test gear, personal protection equipment, and other assistance. Photo by Hilary Hosia.

The new travel advisory, the 12th issued by the government since January 24, extended the travel ban just days before it was scheduled to expire on May 5.

There is currently no scheduled international passenger air service to the Marshall Islands. The last United Airlines flight linking Majuro and Kwajalein with Hawaii and Guam was April 13 and 14. Local authorities said the next United Island Hopper flight is tentatively scheduled for May 20-21.

In a new addition to the travel advisory, “We are strongly advising that people who intend to live and work on outer islands return to the outer islands as soon as possible,” said Niedenthal. In the event Covid-19 is confirmed in either of the two urban centers, government authorities have plans to cancel air and shipping service to remote atolls and islands to prevent spread to isolated populations that have no access to hospitals.

The new travel advisory also ratchets up controls on the region’s purse seine fishing fleet that uses Majuro for transshipment of tuna catches. It limits the number of purse seiners in Majuro lagoon at any one time to 20 and carrier vessels that collect the tuna from the fishing boats to 10.

Since the mid-2010s, Majuro has developed into the busiest tuna transshipment port in the world. But Covid-19 has hammered the transshipment operation. After averaging 37 transshipments a month in 2018 and 2019, which accounted for moving over 600,000 tons of tuna to canneries globally, the number of transshipments fell to 11 in March due to Covid-19 restrictions on entry of vessels.

 “The cabinet has now approved fines and penalties for any person or entity that violates any of the provisions of this new Travel Advisory,” said Niedenthal.

Fines for breaches of travel advisory requirements range from $500 for an individual up to a maximum of $50,000 for a company or organization. The penalties for violations of travel advisory requirements, which include the possibility of prosecution and jail time if convicted, were approved by Cabinet according to the country’s Emergencies Act.

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