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Marshall Islands bans outbound travel

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MAJURO — In the wake of skyrocketing coronavirus infections in Hawaii and Guam, and government-mandated “lock downs” in both islands to contain Covid-19 spread, the Marshall Islands government suspended non-essential outbound air travel, the country’s health minister said Friday. Guam and Hawaii are the two primary destinations for Marshall Islands travelers.

Hawaii reported 305 new cases Friday and Guam 112 as governments in both locations issued stay at home orders and closed businesses, parks and beaches to limit the spike in cases since the beginning of August.

Marshall Islands Health Minister Bruce Bilimon said Friday that the government’s cabinet banned further outbound travel this week. Details are being worked out by the National Disaster Committee to implement the new travel suspension. Inbound travel has been suspended since March 8, although the country has exempted islanders returning from Covid-free islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and is allowing essential U.S. Army workers into the Kwajalein missile range under a 21-day quarantine system with multiple Covid tests prior to their release.

Leaders in the Marshall Islands, which remains one of the few Covid-free nations in the world, have become increasingly concerned by the skyrocketing number of infections among non-Hawaiian Pacific islanders — which includes Marshallese — in Hawaii who now account for 31% of all coronavirus cases in Hawaii, but are only 4% of the state’s population. They are the hardest hit of all groups in the state, with an infection rate 10 times the average for other races, according to Hawaii Health Department statistics.

With Covid-19 cases skyrocketing in Hawaii and Guam, the Marshall Islands ordered all non-essential outbound international air travel be halted. United Airlines is currently the only international carrier servicing the Marshall Islands with service limited to one flight per month because of Covid-19 restrictions. Photo by Giff Johnson

Bilimon said the suspension of outbound travel would make allowances for emergency medical situations. Earlier in the week, over 100 Marshall Islanders from Ebeye and Majuro boarded the one United Airlines flight of the month to Honolulu despite the increasing number of cases in Hawaii.

The Chief Secretary’s Office said Friday that the National Disaster Committee, which it oversees, had been instructed by the cabinet to develop criteria only for essential departures such as medical emergencies. The next international flight to Hawaii and Guam is scheduled for mid-September.

“The government of the Marshall Islands advises its citizens that this suspension is temporary, as the NDC continues to monitor the global health situation, particularly in Guam, Hawaii and the continental U.S.” said a statement from the Chief Secretary’s Office Friday.

The government is preparing to extend the ongoing ban on inbound travel for at least another 30 days before the current order expires September 5.

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