Stranded citizens' waiting list hits 2,000

The backlog in the number of Samoan citizens wanting to return home has hit 2,000 and the number is expected to increase in the coming weeks.

The National Emergency Operation Centre (N.E.O.C.) Interim Chairman, Agafili Shem Leo, confirmed the backlog after announcing several repatriations flights later this month. 

In a press conference on Thursday, Agafili said preparations are underway for the repatriation flights enroute to New Zealand commencing 22 January 2021. 

“The Committee can confirm that the number of citizens wanting to return has reached 2,000 on the list at the moment,” he revealed. “We are talking about this on 7th January at 10am and by next week it will probably go up to 2,500 people, the number doesn’t drop – it goes up.”

The first repatriation flight of the new year on 22 January has been prioritised for 296 sailors, who are stranded all over the world and were initially scheduled to fly in around December last year. 

Agafili has assured that the shipping agencies employing the sailors have been informed about health requirements that the men have to comply with before they board. 

All travelers into Samoa are now required to have a negative RT-PCR covid test within 72 hours before boarding from the last port, a medical clearance and blood serology for COVID-19 antibody test within five days prior to boarding. Passengers are also expected to spend 21 days in managed quarantine isolation. 

The interim Chairman said the repatriation flights are spread out to allow the 21 days quarantine period between each flight. After the 22 January flight, there are three separate trips from New Zealand starting on 12 February to accommodate 900 returning seasonal workers.

The workers that had their contracts extended last year, according to Agafili, will fly in on 12 February, 5 March and 26 March and are required to go through the 21 days quarantine.

While the seasonal workers who have ended their contracts return home, another 600-plus of them will be on a charter flight to New Zealand to continue the temporary work. 

“The charter flights to take the 600-plus workers for the scheme to work in New Zealand will not bring any passengers [in Samoa],” said the interim Chairman. “The charter flight is paid for by the companies in New Zealand that are employing our people.” 

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