Repatriation flight pushed back to Feb 2021; vaccination may be key
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer Inc., the start of repatriation flights — to bring home an estimated 600 American Samoa residents stranded in the US — is being pushed back to February — giving ASG time to reconfigure local entry protocol, while the suspension of Hawaiian Airlines between Honolulu and Pago Pago is continued towards the end of next month (January 2021).
Additionally, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has been informed by the federal government that American Samoa will receive later this week 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
REPATRIATION FLIGHT AND VACCINE
Two months ago, the governor gave provisional approval to the government’s Repatriation Plan and agreed to the ASG Coronavirus Task Force’s suggestion of the first repatriation flight on Jan. 19, 2021.
However, provisions of the governor’s Eleventh Amended Declaration on COVID-19 dated Dec. 1st, shows that the first repatriation flight date set for January or February depends on the implementation of the Hawaii 10-day quarantine protocols. Part of the repatriation plan, requires all travelers, who are authorized by local officials to return home, to undergo a 10-day quarantine at a designated hotel in Hawaii.
Several stranded residents have questioned whether there is a “new” time frame for the first repatriation flight.
“The Repatriation Flight date has been pushed back to February to give us the opportunity to reconfigure our entry protocols with the availability of the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna [vaccine] subsequently when it is approved,” COVID-19 Task Force chairman Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said yesterday responding to Samoa News inquiries.
In the Zoom Call on Tuesday, US General Gustav Perna informed the governor “our 3,900 Pfizer dosages will arrive Friday or Saturday,” Iulogologo explained. “Additional supplies will be shipped weekly— possibly on the cargo flight.”
“Moderna supply and distribution will be determined when the vaccine is approved [by the feds],” he said, noting that the “Governor Lolo made the request if it would be possible to send a month's supply at a time so we can speed up the process of vaccinating our people.”
“General Perna was receptive to the request. We are therefore very hopeful that the availability of vaccines in sufficient quantity will trigger prompt repatriation of our people and opening of our borders,” said Iulogolgo.
(General Perna is Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed, whose goals, include distribution of COVID-19 vaccine.)
The Associated Press reported yesterday morning that a federal government advisory panel would meet today (Thursday) to consider whether to endorse the emergency use of the Moderna vaccine.
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES FLIGHTS
Hawaiian’s latest notice of its flight updates shows that Pago Pago flights are “suspended through Jan. 28, 2021”. And airline spokesman Alex Da Silva confirmed Tuesday night to Samoa News that the continued suspension of flights followed a recent request from the governor.
“The COVID-19 situation in the mainland US and Hawaii was worsening which heightened the risk for accidental transmission if flights were allowed,” said Iulogologo when asked for the reason behind the governor’s request.
“We are also hoping that the approved Pfizer vaccine will provide a different perspective on the resumption of Hawaiian Airlines flights if we were to vaccinate all returning residents, [or] require all travelers to be vaccinated as a prerequisite to enter American Samoa,” he pointed out.
“We have worked hard and we have made sacrifices since the onset of the pandemic — [now is not the time] to let our guard down when we have the solution in sight,” he said. “We thank our people stranded outside for their patience and tolerance along with their willingness to sacrifice so our people here at home are protected from this deadly disease.”
Some stranded residents in the US, who have booked flights for next month, confirmed to Samoa News on Tuesday night that they had been informed of the cancellation of flights for January.