Marshall Islands sees jump in Covid border cases

For the first time during the Covid pandemic, the Marshall Islands this week has detected Covid positive individuals in all three of its managed quarantine operations.

By Thursday, testing confirmed that 23 of 82 people in quarantine in the Marshall Islands "Safe Travels" repatriation programme were positive, while an additional three people in US Army-managed quarantine were also positive.

The Marshall Islands has so far remained Covid-free with no community spread. All of the 26 positive cases remain in government-managed quarantine centres on Kwajalein and Majuro.

Up until recently, the country required anyone coming to the Marshall Islands to quarantine in Honolulu first with multiple Covid tests prior to travelling.

The elimination in April of Honolulu quarantine has seen an increase in border cases in the Marshall Islands that earlier would likely have been identified in Honolulu preventing their travel.

According to government officials, the Marshall Islands is planning to reopen its borders in October, two years and seven months after they were closed at the outset of the pandemic.

In anticipation of this possibility, the Ministry of Health and Human Services has ramped up its planning and exercises for how it will manage the expected initial wave of Covid cases when quarantine is eliminated.

Last Saturday, eight people tested positive on their day-three test in quarantine at Kwajalein.

As Covid spread to room-mates in the quarantine centre, this number increased to 14 on Monday and further to 21 after the day-seven tests. For the first time, there are also two positive cases in the Majuro quarantine facility at the Arrak Campus of the College of the Marshall Islands.

Quarantine is 14 days in the Marshall Islands. But when a Covid positive case develops in quarantine, the 14-day clock is reset from the date of a positive test, so there will be additional quarantine time for nearly half of the quarantine group at Kwajalein, according to Ministry of Health and Human Services officials.

The 46 people in the Safe Travels Program all tested negative in Covid tests conducted the day before their departure from Honolulu last week.


Photo: RNZ Pacific / Giff Johnson  Caption: The government's Arrak Quarantine Centre on Majuro