Strong opposition to L.A. repatriation flight

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi is being called upon to cancel a charter flight of about 300 passengers flying to Samoa from Los Angeles because of the coronavirus risk. 

The calls follow the confirmation of the first positive case of COVID-19 in Samoa on Thursday. 

Political parties say the risk posed by a repatriation flight departing from a state which has recorded more than one million cases of the virus poses too great a risk to the public health. 

The flight is scheduled to depart from Los Angeles international airport on 27 November and is an opportunity for Samoan citizens from North America, South America and Europe to return to the country.

Samoa has made a request for passengers on the flight to quarantine in New Zealand for two weeks before they arrive in Apia to mitigate the risk. A spokeswoman for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the request was being actively discussed. 

The leader of the Tautua Samoa, Afualo Luagalau Dr. Salele said while everyone feels compassionate towards the Samoans seeking their way home, the flight is too risky.

Afualo says unless Samoa finds a way to isolate passengers before they are flown into Samoa, there is too large a chance Samoa of the virus entering Samoa’s borders. 

"It's a hotspot in America and Europe. There will surely be cases, just like this sailor which was said to come through Italy, and hopefully, it remains a negative case, but this American flight needs more precautions," said Afualo.

"If they can arrange a quarantine point in New Zealand, that would be good."

Afualo also suggested a review in the use of the three day minimum medical clearance requirement saying the near scare earlier this week is a reflection that it is unreliable.

Incoming passengers to Samoa must present a negative coronavirus test taken within three days of their departure along with a medical report saying they are not presenting any symptoms. 

"They need to revisit [...] the reliability of those medical clearances as well the credibility and honesty of such documents. It can be bought online now, and you can just get it signed off with a doctor you know," Afualo added.

"But still, we cannot take the risk. Our position on the matter is that we do not support this decision. They should have cancelled this flight."

Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party leader, La’auli Polataivao Schmidt, echoed such concerns. 

La’auli said despite preparing so thoroughly for the pandemic throughout the year it was worrying the Government was going to allow the flight to proceed.

He said that allowing the flight from the United States to continue is a risk because Samoa simply lacks the "proper and efficient" equipment.

"We do not have enough equipment, this is where [I'm concerned]. They are also not confirming the bringing in of more tests," he said.

"So we need to ensure, like American Samoa, have the types of tests that can produce results upon testing; we should have that kind of testing. Now they're sending it to New Zealand, how long are we going to wait?”

On Thursday, the Prime Minister during his address to the nation confirmed that there are no changes to the state of emergency orders, which have been extended.

On Friday the interim Chairman of the National Emergency Operations Centre, Agafili Shem Leo, said the Government was awaiting the results of further confirmatory testing on the sailor who tested positive before it would review state of emergency orders.  

Sovereign Independent Samoa (S.I.S.) party leader, Fesola'i Logo Toloa said should the Government push through with the flight, the quarantine period needs to be extended.

Fesola'i said instead of the standard two week quarantine period should be four weeks. This means the arrivals would be released from managed isolation after Christmas day.

On more extreme measures, Fesola'i suggested the group being isolated on a separate island.

"Probably take them to Namu'a island, with the Police and hospital staff, to ensure that all of them are all quarantined together," she said.

"We cannot be careless about these things, so they need to be isolated on a separate island."

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