Returning seasonal workers to quarantine in Poutasi

Over a hundred seasonal workers will be brought home on a chartered flight to see out their two-week quarantine in Poutasi, Falealili, after negotiations between the village and government came to a close last week.

Poutasi High Chief, Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale, confirmed with the Samoa Observer that 117 men working for Johnny Appleseed under the Falealili Seasonal Work Programme will be flown home and quarantined under strict conditions.

He said after five weeks of discussions with the National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.) and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) the village got a green light on Friday, after which internal discussions among Poutasi village began in earnest.

“It wasn’t easy. And I don’t blame them, it’s everybody’s lives that are at risk,” Tuatagaloa said.

But with the blessings of the village council, women’s committee and others the plan will go ahead, with hopes the flight will come in over the weekend or at the latest, early next week.

The seasonal workers, who have been in the Hawke’s Bay orchard since last November have been pleading with their village to come home for weeks. In an interview with Radio New Zealand last week, one worker said many of them are “losing hope.”

Those pleas worked, and both the Samoan and New Zealand Governments have been moved to make the necessary arrangements to bring the men home.

Having already been in isolation in their working ‘bubble’ for months, they will be tested for COVID-19 three days before the flight is due to leave, and only the negative tests will be allowed to depart. 

In Poutasi, they will stay in one of either the Poutasi Memorial Hall or in the school hall. Families have agreed to allow the school term to restart late to accommodate for the quarantine, preferring their children were not in classrooms while quarantine continued in their hall.

The Memorial Hall compound, which has a fully functioning brand new kitchen (funded recently by Canada) and a rugby field, will be cordoned off to the village so that the men can move around within it freely and get fresh air and exercise.

Tuatagaloa said they will be monitored daily for any changes to their health and while in quarantine will be entirely self-sufficient.

“We are blessed to have a hall with a commercial stainless steel kitchen. They will do all their own cooking, cleaning and everything.

“When they get here we will have in store all the supplies they have asked for to be in place when they arrive.

“Nobody from the outside is going to be allowed in, security will be provided by a Government selected security firm and of course our chiefs and orators will assist […]to make sure nobody leaves the compound or enters the compound.”

He said he knows the village and the returning workers will adhere to all the rules, because they understand the risks Poutasi is taking on to bring their men home from eight months away.

“The consequences are too severe should we not comply or fall short of the requirements,” Tuatagaloa said. 

A further 85 seasonal workers from the Falealili programme employed by Mr. Apple have been employed at another orchard while they wait for commercial flights to free up and take them home. 

Tuatagaloa said it is not clear yet whether those workers will eventually be brought home and quarantined the same way the Johnny Appleseed crew will be.

He said it is a large burden on the community and it may prove better to have the Mr. Apple crew go through the regular government quarantine in hotels. 

Poutasi village and the seasonal work committee will host the N.E.O.C. for another review of the site and to go over expectations and protocols on Tuesday morning.

“The encouraging part is that the parties in this effort are all in sync and are all in agreement that we will try and make this happen,” Tuatagaloa said.

Meanwhile, Radio New Zealand reports some seasonal workers have asked to have a chance to visit Auckland on their way to Samoa and visit their families, but have been urged not to break their work-based isolation 'bubbles.'

Head of the R.S.E.division in M.C.I.L. Lemalu Nele Leilua said anyone who does that will have to spend a further 14 days in quarantine in Auckland before coming to Samoa and will likely not be returning on the chartered flight. 

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