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Repatriation plan: Hopefully ONE flight a month beginning end of Jan

Dr. Saipale Fuimaono, Dr. Ronald Yip, Dr. Aifili John Tufa

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — While there is no firm date to commence repatriation flights for American Samoa residents stranded across the U.S, Health Department Senior Epidemiologist, Dr. Aifili John Tufa said DoH is preparing for the start of repatriation at the end of the month.

And so far some 912 individuals have applied to return home under the “American Samoa Government Repatriation Program” online portal — which was launched early last week.

Dr. Tufa — who made the comments at yesterday’s DoH news conference for health officials to provided an update on the COVID-19 vaccine and the repatriation program — acknowledged many people, especially local residents stranded off island, are waiting word on when the repatriation flights will actually start.

He explained that there is no firm date at this point although a date have been discussed and this is an issue expected to be included in a DoH and LBJ Medical Center briefing yesterday with Gov. Peleti Palepoi Sialega Mauga and other ASG officials.

Dr. Tufa explained that the end of this month is the timeframe given to DoH for its preparation for the start of repatriation flights, but the final confirmation date comes from the governor and thereafter DoH will make that information public — especially for stranded local residents awaiting this information.

He went on to tell news reporters that as of yesterday morning 912 people have submitted their applications for repatriation through the online portal and that the process for screening applications is on a “first come, first serve basis”.

The application will then be reviewed by a seven-member panel of physicians and nurses, with a quorum of five members to attend meetings to make the decision on who will be repatriated.

According to Dr. Tufa, the plan at this point is that each repatriation flight will carry 160 passengers. “So it’s going to be one flight per month and 160 people per flight. That’s what we’re aiming for,” he said, noting it’s the governor’s wish to continue operating these flights until all local residents stranded in the US are returned home.

“So we’re going to have a flight a month until every one who has applied for repatriation has arrived home. That is the intent,” he said, “but of course, things could change” — for example — “if our repatriation program is stopped due to — maybe — our staff getting the coronavirus, or the coronavirus does reach American Samoa, it might change our plans.”

He said it’s important that the community is made aware that the plan is subject to change. “But is is the intent of the department and the governor to return everyone home safely,” he emphasized.

The “American Samoa Repatriation Program is voluntary,” according to the online registration portal. It explained that applicants — all of whom must be legal residents of American Samoa — have chosen to participate in this repatriation program, and must comply with all DoH repatriation policies and procedures. (See Samoa News edition Dec. 30, 2020 for details).

Samoa News will report in future editions on other repatriation issues raised at the new DoH conference room in the Haleck Professional Building, in which all those in attendance — DoH officials and reporters — wore protective face masks. Reporters who showed up without face masks were supplied to wear by DoH.