Pago flights to open for temporary returns

Travel to American Samoa by air and sea has been re-opened - but that could soon change, depending on whether the neighbouring territory opens its borders to Hawaii.

The stipulation is contained in the latest amendments to the coronavirus state of emergency orders released on Wednesday evening.

Reopening, or not, the border between American Samoa and Hawaii has been a hot topic in the House Health Committee, with tentative plans for its reinstatement pencilled for July.

But with new daily cases still in high numbers, the Governor of the American territory, Lolo Moliga, maintains that without drastic improvement flights will not open to Honolulu according to plans. 

“Some of [Hawaii’s] restrictions were relaxed and travel was open within the state and they opened up their travel to the [mainland] United States with very strict quarantine protocols,” Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Aifili John Tufa said.

“But even with strict protocols, we are seeing a resurgence of cases there.”

The islands have had 728 cases altogether and to date; there are around 80 active cases and four new ones were reported on 16 June. 

So far 17 people have died locally of the virus, including famed botanist Dr. Art Whistler, who catalogued the majority of Samoa’s flora and fauna. 

The Chief Medical Officer of the territory’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, Dr. Iotamo Saleapaga, has urged the Committee to keep the Hawaii border closed as a necessary defence against the virus. 

He asked American Samoans stranded in Hawaii to be patient and wait until it is safe to bring them home. 

But should flights resume in July, passengers will be tested for COVID-19 three days before they depart, and stay in quarantine facilities for 14 days after their arrival. Home quarantine will not be permitted.

The flight schedule will be for one plane to operate at around half capacity every 17 days; planes will be disinfected in the interim.  

During last week’s committee meeting, the only voice in favour of bringing American Samoans home from mainland America was the Vice-Speaker of the House Fetu Fetui. 

Meanwhile, Talofa Airways and Samoa Airways have so far scheduled one week’s worth of flights to return citizens, permanent residents and other eligible passengers to their home islands this week. There are plans to stop the flights and shut the border again once the return of citizens and residents is completed.

The Government on Thursday morning outlined the travel criteria for Samoans hoping to return to the country this week, in a notice that also says the criteria is subject to change without notice, nor limited to those listed. 

All travellers must have been residing in American Samoa for 14 consecutive days or more without having travelled outside the territory.

They are required to complete a health declaration card in flight or on arrival and are required to undergo a medical exam within three days of their arrival with a report presented at the point of check-in. 

Only those with a report will be allowed to board; anyone with COVID-19 like symptoms will similarly be denied. 

Anyone coming from outside of American Samoa must remain in the American territory for 28 days before they are eligible to come to Samoa. 

The travel advisory states that “COVID-19 tests are essential but not required for boarding.”

The Government Press Secretariat has been approached for clarification on what health testing must entail to be recognised on entry. 

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