FSM files criminal charges vs Pohnpei officials for alleged COVID violations

Posted on Jun 22 2022


PALIKIR, Pohnpei— Five Pohnpei state government officials, including the acting governor, and the chair of the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force, were arrested and criminally charged before the FSM Supreme Court last June 16, 2022, in connection with over 200 counts of criminal violations involving breaches of civil rights considered as a felony under national law, false imprisonment, multiple violations of emergency decrees and Standard Operating Procedures for COVID-19 quarantine, and the intentional disabling of the Medical Monitoring Area quarantine facility in Dekehtik during the June 12 repatriation flight from Guam.

The June 12 repatriation flight into Pohnpei (which departed Guam on June 11 but arrived in Pohnpei on June 12) brought a total of 71 passengers, 70 of whom were assigned to the Emergency Medical Unit for their in-country quarantine. The EMU has a total of 26 rooms which, according to the submitted documents’ arguments, were insufficient to quarantine the 70 arriving passengers and resulted in an unacceptable overcrowding of the lobby and hallway of the EMU, forcing travelers to sleep on the floor and with no provisions for clean water, beddings, bedsheets, and pillows. The FSM national government suggests in its filings that there were no adequate bathroom facilities under these conditions, and no social/physical distancing observed; by extension, the government argues that there was no quarantine in the sense of the COVID-19 protocols required under the circumstances.

The FSM national government argues in its submitted documents that Pohnpei state government previously announced its readiness in anticipation of the June 12 repatriation flight, and that the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force had instructed relevant parties to not prepare the second quarantine facility, the MMA, in advance of the repatriation flight. Hence, no cleanup and disinfection processes were conducted, even though the MMA quarantine manager was allegedly ready and willing to do so. In effect, the disabling of the MMA quarantine facility disrupted and obstructed the quarantine process that—for the arriving passengers—had started in Guam for a period of three days prior to their repatriation flight. The EMU was insufficient to safely accommodate all the 70 passengers assigned to it. According to information, the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force advised that it required four days to clean the MMA, although the FSM national government medical team that cleaned the MMA site required less than 24 hours to accomplish this task. The Pohnpei state government did not clean or prepare the MMA quarantine site prior to the arrival of the flight, and maintained this position until after the flight arrived, when the FSM national government took the initiative to offer assistance to clean and disinfect the facility, when passengers were overcrowding the lobby of the EMU facility.

Almost all of the travelers from a previous repatriation flight in May were released several days prior, on June 7, and as such the FSM national government believes that the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force could have initiated all the necessary cleaning and disinfecting procedures for the vacated MMA rooms prior to the June 12 repatriation flight, but the state Task Force allegedly decided and instructed against this. The FSM national government maintains that this deprives travelers of their right to a proper, and by extension safe, quarantine.

The criminal charges filed against then-acting Pohnpei governor Christina Elnei; the chair of the Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force, Norleen Oliver-DeOrio; the Director of Public Safety, Patrick Carl; the Pohnpei state public information officer, Patrick Pedrus; and the commissioner for the Pohnpei Public Broadcasting Corp., Peterson Sam, are pending before the FSM Supreme Court. (PR)

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