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As COVID-19 cases climb in the US, there are still none in the Marshall Islands

Susanne Rust, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

As coronavirus cases climb many U.S. states, some Pacific Island nations have safely ridden out the storm.

The Marshall Islands is still COVID-19-free.

"We saw the threat and took action early," said Jack Niedenthal, secretary of Health for the mid-Pacific island nation, describing the island nation's March 3 travel ban, which prevented incoming travelers from across the globe. The Marshallese government had banned travelers from China several weeks earlier.

The safe status of the Marshall Islands contrasts with what Marshallese immigrants are experiencing in the United States. As The Times recently reported, Marshallese have been disproportionately infected with the coronavirus in cities such as Spokane, Wash., and Springdale, Ark., in part because many of them serve as essential workers.

In the South Pacific and Central Pacific, many islands nations, including New Zealand, have so far staved off the worst of COVID-19 by closing their borders early and taking other public health measures.

Across the globe, only six countries are reportedly COVID-19 free. With the exception of North Korea, all of them -- Kiribati, Palau, American Samoa, Nauru and Micronesia -- are Pacific Island nations that closed their borders to outside travelers.

 

As of Wednesday, there are nearly 3.5 million coronavirus cases in the United States, more than any other country.

The Marshall Islands' travel ban is still in place -- and currently extended through Aug. 5 -- while the government builds the infrastructure and stockpiles the equipment it will need should the virus invade.

According to Casten Nemra, the Marshall Islands' minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, construction on a new COVID-19 medical isolation center on Majuro -- the nation's capital and most populated island -- is almost complete.

"Then we can begin bringing back our citizens who have been stranded," he said, noting the nearly 500 Marshallese traveling abroad when the travel ban was announced -- including Niedenthal's wife, daughter and grandson, who were visiting family in Portland.

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