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COVID-19 Task Force chairman to CoC: ASG has not seen a decrease in incoming container vessels

American Samoa Executive Office Building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — ASG’s COVID-19 Task Force chairman, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira has informed the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce that the government has not seen a decrease in incoming container vessels and there are sufficient cleaning supplies on island for sanitation requirements.

Iulogologo made the comments in his response to several questions posed to him by Chamber chairperson Ella Gurr, who on behalf of the business community, “urges there be some form of communication in place for our businesses and ASG” during the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

“Currently there is no information communicated from ASG to the Chamber on behalf of our businesses,” Gurr wrote last week to Iulogologo. “Chamber understands ASG has been consumed with the Health Preventive measures of the COVID19 but advise to please also focus on the economic aspect of this pandemic.”

Iulogologo responded that the ASG Commerce director is delegated the responsibility to communicate and collaborate with the private sector on issues pertaining to the local economy and businesses. And the director is working with relevant ASG agencies to formulate a relief package to help local businesses.

Furthermore, the DOC director, along with the US Interior Department’s local field representative, and the Governor’s Office “are working to decipher federal aid to provide clear pathways to ensure that all our businesses access these relief initiatives.”

Under provisions of the governor’s Mar. 27th new directive on COVID-19 protocol responsibilities, DOC is required to provide a report to the task force on Fridays on issues such as Federal Aid available to the business community; collaboration with the private sector to ensure that they receive this aid; and conduct in collaboration with the private sector surveys to determine the amount of loss suffered.

DOC is also to collaborate with ASG Treasury, Port Administration, Budget Office, Procurement Office, Development Bank of American Samoa, American Samoa Authority, American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority and all other ASG agencies to recommend what the local government can do to provide relief to the private sector.

As reported by Samoa News in the past days, Gurr submitted the Chamber’s coronavirus economic relief plan to the governor three weeks ago. The plan covers a wide range of issues including concerns over decrease in the supply chain, with a decrease in incoming supplies as well as a proposal of tax relief measures for ASG to consider.

Among the questions Gurr posed to Iulogologo, is an update on the status of the Chamber relief plan, to which the task force chairman says he has not received the plan, saying the only document he received is the ANZ Bank Economic Impact Assessment which compares economies of the Pacific Islands but does little to clearly assess the impact on the territory’s economy.

(Samoa News notes that the ANZ assessment document was widely distributed early last month through the Pacific region and the document was also part of the Chamber’s relief plan submitted to the governor.)

In its relief plan, the Chamber noted that the territory will be experiencing supply issues on essential goods to include cleaning supplies. Gurr asked what are ASG plans to support the shortages.

Iulogologo responded that the government is “constantly monitoring shipping schedules to see any drop in the number of voyages to American Samoa” but so far “we have not seen any drop in the scheduled voyages.”

“There is a sufficient supply of cleaning supplies on island to conduct sanitation requirements,” he said adding that the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency is tasked to monitor this issue.

On the Chamber’s suggestion of using local hotels and other accommodations as ASG quarantine facilities, Iulogologo said ASG “lacks the financial wherewithal to pay hotel costs” and ASG is completing new quarantine facilities so the need to quarantine people at the hotel is eliminated.

“The Department of Health is amenable to quarantining people at the hotel if they assume the requisite costs,” he points out.

Provisions of the governor’s declaration, restrict business hours of operation from 6a.m to 6p.m. However, the governor has exempted StarKist cannery and six local businesses, which provides support to the cannery, citing food security.

Gurr asked follow-up questions — what businesses are considered essential businesses? Has there been a reconsideration for gas stations and retail stores.

“Businesses producing products to maintain our supply chain are deemed of priority,” was Iulogologo’s response and explained that gas stations contribute to the continued movement of people. And with buses and taxis ceasing operations at 6 p.m., he said the need for gas stations to open beyond 6p.m. “is moot”.

(Samoa News notes that buses transporting cannery workers — both StarKist Samoa and Talofa Systems can manufacturing plant — are exempt from the operation hours restrictions.)

“The public has 12 hours to fill their gas tanks. You must take heed of the fact that social distancing and preventing people movement lessens the risk for propagation of the COVID-19. virus,” Iulogologo said.

Responding to Gurr’s question on how do McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurants qualify as essential businesses, Iulogologo said, “working families need an option to get food.”

(It should be noted that these restaurants are allowed to open up to 10pm for take-out and drive-thru.)

Gurr said the Chamber hopes there will be proper procedures in place for any rollouts to include “notification” to businesses impacted by any local mandates in reference to the COVID19.

“The MEDIA is doing an excellent job getting the information out to the public. The government is religiously pushing out information on changes to government policies depending on the status of the COVID-19 curve,” was Iulogologo’s response.

“The Governor has and will continue to place the needs of businesses at the forefront, but balanced against the threat to the lives of our people,” he said, “When federal aid reaches the territory the businesses will be the primary beneficiaries which will help bolster business sales and help businesses recover from any losses incurred.”

Last week Chamber members made a donation of pillows, soap, toilet paper, diapers, wipes, hand sanitizers, and bottled water to assist the government with the care of those placed at quarantine facilities.

Iulogologo informed Gurr that he has heard about the donation but the content is not known to him.

“Although the Governor has not been made aware of this donation, he is very appreciative to the Chamber for this generous donation and its demonstrated support for our territorial wide effort to stop the entry and spread of the COVID-19 disease,” he said.

“What the Governor asks of the business community is to advocate strongly the deadliness of this disease and to support the government to encourage social distancing and to stay home.” he informed Gurr.

Many businesses including major retailers have already implemented measures to comply with the emergency declaration.