Third repatriation flight touches down

As the first batch of Samoans were declared safe and cleared from mandatory quarantine, a hundred and forty more repatriated passengers from Auckland arrived on Friday. 

Most of the passengers are quarantined at hotels booked at the Government's expense. The Auckland-Apia Air New Zealand flight returned with fewer than 40 passengers.

The incoming passengers exited the aircraft through an aero-bridge directly into mandatory screening by the Ministry of Health; they were escorted through side doors and into vans reserved to transport them to designated locations.

Requirements to board the flight included a negative COVID-19 test and proof of 14 days' self-isolation prior to boarding.

At the airport, a few family members were seen waiting at the airport from hoping to get a glimpse of their family members from afar.

Some passengers, requiring medical care and supervision, will be quarantined at home including an unnamed man in his 80s. Ministry officials and security guards who had already visited the man’s house were clear and suitable for home quarantine. 

Passengers undergoing quarantine at home are pre-approved by the Director-General of Heath, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, and prescribed conditions for self-isolation. 

They are also visited by a medical team every day to monitor their situations with security guards placed at the home to ensure complete isolation for 14 days.

Apart from those held at home under quarantine, the costs of accommodation, breakfast and lunch for passengers are to be paid for by the Government. The costs of paying for dinner will be borne by passengers themselves. 

Some ten hotels have been designated locations for the purpose.

According to the Ministry of Finance Chief Executive Officer, Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, the number of Samoans overseas seeking their way home has drastically increased.

Initial reports signalled there was demand for some 900 passengers. But there are now about 2000 people awaiting a spot on one of the approved flights, the Ministry chief said.

It is for this reason the Government had opted for passengers to foot a portion of the quarantine bill, he said. 

According to Leasiosio, the Government spends about $150 to $200 on each passenger a day while they are under quarantine.

For a flight with 150 returning passengers staying in hotels, the cost of keeping repatriated nationals runs to about three hundred to four hundred thousand tala per planeload. 

Samoa is expected to have about four more repatriation flights, which will be operated on a fortnightly basis.

The New Zealand Doctor published a report that if it had not been for the late intervention of staff from health services provider the Fono, 80 per cent of the first batch of passengers would never have made it onto the initial repatriation flight two weeks ago

The May 29 flight carried 146 passengers from Auckland to Faleolo Airport.

It was only the second flight to carry passengers into the country since the complete closure of Samoa’s borders in March. 

The first was a cargo flight which brought in Chief Justice, His Honor, Satiu Simativa Perese and only three other passengers.

“A statement from the Samoan Government issued on 20 May says the flight was organised in conjunction with the New Zealand Government and Air New Zealand. But the day before it was set to leave the Samoan consulate called Auckland-based The Fono to request help,” the New Zealand Doctor reported.

“The Fono chief executive Tevita Funaki says his team arrived at the airport at 4am to check passengers had the paperwork showing they had been tested for COVID-19. 

“If we hadn’t been there, 80 per cent of the passengers would not have been allowed to leave.

“Attempts to contact passengers earlier were difficult as they were mostly staying with family and were spread across Auckland.”

Some 150 passengers were meant to fly in on that flight but only 146 were able to board as the others could not meet requirements.

According to New Zealand Doctor, Collin Tukuitonga, the Associate Dean Pacific at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Services, said the lead-up to the Auckland-Apia flight’s departure suggested the coordination effort had “an ad hoc feel about it” and shows the need for better communication between Government ministries and families flying home.

Dr Tukuitonga, Former Director-General of the Pacific Community, says there are clear lessons to be learned from the exercise and he is grateful Mr Funaki was able to step forward and “fill the gap”.

“What the Ministries say and what actually happens on the ground is often quite different and this shows the need for better communications because, ultimately, all those families returning home would have faced consequences if things hadn’t been done properly,” he said. 

The only travellers allowed into Samoa are returning residents with returning tickets, returning resident students, those who have the need for essential services for Samoa, returning resident patients who travelled overseas for medical purposes, families with children and persons over the age of 60 years, returning resident sports teams and seasonal employees with expired employment contracts, general returning residents and any other passengers with special and relevant ground for travel to Samoa.

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