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COVID-19: Tiny Island Palau Records First Case; Health Minister Says 'low Risk Of Spread'

Palau returnee had tested negative at least three times in Guam and had eventually become COVID-19 positive on the 21 days of his hotel quarantine.


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A tiny pacific island state of 21,000, Palau on Sunday reported its first coronavirus case, although the health authorities have found that it had zero transmission risk. The state located in the western Pacific Ocean solely thrives on massive tourism to run its economy and witnesses approximately 90,000 tourists annually. However, earlier last year with the spread of the novel coronavirus, the island shut its borders on all sides, halting tourists that are nearly five times the total population, and makes up to 40 percent of the country’s total GDP, according to the IMF data. 

Palau shut the borders and prohibited entry to overseas travellers since late March 2020. The new case, however, was detected in the returnee who, at the time of travelling to the island, was diagnosed negative, according to the update by the island’s health ministry on Sunday. The man, who arrived within the country from Guam on May 9, took two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that returned negative results ahead of boarding the flight to Palau. 

According to a statement by Palau’s government, the returnee had tested negative at least three times and had eventually become COVID-19 positive on the 21 days of his hotel quarantine. But he now has low risk or nearly no risk of transmitting or spreading the coronavirus inside the island nation as he tested negative.

[Members of the US Health & Human Services (HHS) team gave out the Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID vaccination making Palau the first Pacific nation to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Credit: Twitter/@Surangeljr]

A report carried by The Guam Daily Post stated that the Administrator for the Health Policy, Research and Development at Ministry of Health, Palau Gaafar J. Uherbelau classified the COVID-19 case as 'historical' with a low risk of spread. He said that the patient was infected with the SARS-CoV-2 in January. Authorities, however, speculate that the case may be where the infected person continues to shed viral RNA long after recovery from the COVID-19 illness. 

And therefore, the administrator of Health Policy, Research & Development at the Ministry of Health said that the health officials initiated the rigorous contact tracing during the time the said man was isolated. At the time he arrived in Guam, the US island in Micronesia, the man was “fully vaccinated” and had two negative PCR tests prior to boarding the flight, Uherbelau informed the newspaper. He then had to quarantine for 14 days with a test on days seven and 14 and both of those tests returned negative. An acclaimed Dr Victor Yano on the island told the reporter that the recovered man posed a low risk of infecting others. 

97% of Palau population vaccinated, says President 

In a COVID-19 news briefing on Monday morning, President Surangel Whipps Jr. said that almost 97 percent of Palau’s adult population had been fully jabbed with two doses of the coronavirus vaccine. “We need to understand we need to move from COVID-free to COVID-19 safe. We’re opening with care and the protocols we have in place sometimes people feel are extreme but it is about opening with care,” the president said at the presser. The conference was held alongside US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Federated States of Micronesia, Dr. Thane Hancock who said that the Ministry of Health was proceeding with an abundance of caution. 

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