Lolo: Repatriating local citizens stranded in Samoa is the top priority
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With about 300 local residents stranded in Samoa since the closure of borders between the two Samoas due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has directed the Health Department and other ASG officials to come up with a plan to repatriate local residents starting this week.
Such a plan will include verification of all travelers who are local residents, the policy of having them quarantine upon arrival, how to reach them in Samoa and testing of all of them. The Attorney General’s Office along with Immigration will verify the list of those local residents and the acting AG will give the authorization for them to enter the territory.
Lolo revealed at Sunday’s government COVID-19 task force meeting, his wish to repatriate local residents stranded in Samoa, as a priority at this point.
He said that based on the report from Immigration there are some 300 local residents stranded in Apia and the task now for the government is to come up with a way to return them.
“We’re not moving to re-open borders at this point but to return our residents [stranded] in Samoa,” Lolo said, adding that he spoke with Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi last week Thursday and it appears Samoa doesn't have the capacity to test all 300 local residents for the virus as Samoa has only about 200 test kits from China and these are reserved for any emergency situation of their own.
Lolo said he wants Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua, and a team of medical personnel to travel to Apia this week, along with representatives of the Immigration Office taking with them 300 test kits to test those verified as local residents before they enter the territory.
He said DoH along with the Attorney General’s Office to also work with the airline to confirm and verify the actual number of travelers to return home.
The governor emphasized that no one enters the territory without being tested, saying that many people are now in Samoa after being repatriated from New Zealand and Australia — both countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
He said efforts are to be made as quickly as possible to remove local residents from Apia before something else occurs in Samoa. He also said that DoH has the discretion as to who is to get quarantined at ASG facilities and who will be home quarantined.
According to the governor this is the final decision on this matter, and for DoH and other ASG officials to find a way to reach those stranded in Samoa to notify them about the process for returning back home.
However, Motusa said that taking 300 test kits means there is also a need for help in laboratory services in Apia and he is concerned that local test kits are not compatible with the test machine in Samoa and this would mean the test would need to be conducted here.
Motusa explained that conducting tests is time consuming and they test about 20 a day, but could do up to 40 tests a day. He noted that during the testing process, the test machine also needs to be calibrated after conducting tests to ensure it’s properly working.
DoH’s Dr. Saipale Fuimaono explained further on what’s involved in the testing, which he says is time consuming.
Motusa believes that many local residents stranded in Apia are those who traveled beyond Samoa to New Zealand or Australia for medical needs.
He informed the governor that DoH, its medical staff and partners held discussions on this same issue and came up with a proposal as an option for repatriation of local residents, which would be testing them here without staff traveling to Apia with test kits.
The proposal calls for residents to return on June 10, 11 and 12th bringing in 40 passengers per day and each flight will have passengers tested here and that’s a total of 140 passengers. He said DoH wasn’t aware that there are some 300 American Samoans and bona-fide local residents stuck in Samoa.
Once the passengers arrived, they would be quarantined for 2-weeks and on the third week, the quarantine facility would go through a full disinfection process to await the next round of travelers in the third week.
According to the Heath director, they have already had discussions with Sadie’s by the Sea hotel, which can provide 46 rooms for quarantine and the other facility is Fatuoaiga, which has about 40 rooms but has a capacity of up to 80 beds.
He said these quarantine facilities are the “preferred and most comfortable sites,” which have air conditioning and where it would be easier to house those with medical conditions.
Lolo responded that DoH and its partners should submit in advance this proposal along with details instead of waiting. He instructed that DoH start working on a plan to bring back those stranded in Samoa.
As the governor, Lolo said he is held accountable for policies put in place and such policies include testing travelers before landing here where they might have a negative test result.
Lolo asked DoH and others to work with the Acting AG — who will give the authorization for a resident to board the flight — and provide a plan on returning all America Samoa residents this week.
He said the acting AG should be given the list of passengers before a flight departs Apia and DoH needs to come up with a way to let those in Samoa know when they can start signing up for the flight to American Samoa.
Lolo said there are also professionals, such as those in the medical field and those contracted for major projects on island, also stuck in Apia and DoH needs to make sure they are on these flights after they are verified.
Motusa was also instructed to set a policy as to who is quarantined at the hotel and suggested that the elderly and those with medical conditions should be clearly specified to quarantine either at the hotel or Fatuoaiga.
DoH is expected to release today additional information on the repatriation process.