Early border closures and testing of citizens help Palau remain COVID-19 free

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 29) – Closing its borders early and prioritizing testing among its citizens are the keys for Palau to remain free from COVID-19, a Palauan diplomat shared on Friday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon, Palau Ambassador to the United Nations Ngedikes Olai Uludong revealed they implemented stricter border controls in Palau as early as January.

The island-nation decided to entirely close all its borders and ports of entry by March, Uludong said.

“In mid-March, everything was closed and we locked our borders. We ensure there were no cruise ships too,” she said.

By April, the Palauan diplomat emphasized they started to test their citizens for the virus.

“By first week of April, we were prepared. We have the testing facilities and we are preparing to bring now our students and citizens home in the first phase,” said Uludong.

According to the Palau Health Ministry, a total of 66 COVID-19 tests have been conducted to suspected patients and all yielded negative results.

Bigger nations like Taiwan, Australia, United States, and India donated rapid test kits in Palau to ramp up the island-nation’s testing capacity.

Uludong admitted it is still early to conclude if Palau’s healthcare system can handle the impact of the pandemic because there have been no infections yet in the territory.

“The best right now is we don’t have it (COVID-19 case), so it is a risk. All other countries are struggling and all healthcare systems need to be revamped to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Since tourism is the lifeblood of Palau’s economy, Uludong admitted it will have an impact in their economic situation. But she stressed the protection of Palau’s citizens from COVID-19 is more important nowadays.

“Palau remains the same situation with the rest of the world. Right now, we can only prepare and remain close,” she stated.

Uludong is also reluctant in admitting tourists from other countries in Palau, in spite that some nations already have no active COVID-19 infections.

Recently, Australia and New Zealand established a travel ‘bubble’ agreement which enables their citizens to travel in both countries despite the prevailing risk of COVID-19.

She added that Asia remains the top tourist market in Palau.

“A bubble theory is still a risk, a lot of risk. New Zealand is not COVID-free and Australia is not COVID-free. Palau is,” said Palau’s diplomat to the UN.

As of the latest count by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there are now 5,844,499 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world.

Worldwide, the virus has claimed 361,119 lives but 2,443,458 have recovered from the disease.