Gov will begin review of proposed repatriation plan on Tuesday
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has received the petition from Tagata Tutu Fa'atasi Alliance, the group behind the move for repatriation of American Samoa residents stranded in the US, most of them in Hawaii — as the number of coronavirus cases spiked in many states.
As of 12noon Saturday, Sept. 12, according to the state’s public online records, Hawaii’s total number of COVID-19 is 10,588 with 97 deaths.
The Alliance launched last month online “REPATRIATE American Samoa residents stranded across America” is circulating a petition calling on the governor and territorial leaders for a repatriation flight to bring local residents — now numbering up to 400 — back home.
While the petition’s goal at the start was to gather 500 signatures, it has since changed, to seeking 1,500 signatures with more than 1,100 signed as of this past Saturday morning.
Samoa News has received several local and off island inquires as to whether the governor has received the petition and what is ASG’s next move, since the governor has already appointed a special committee, which includes local physicians, to come up with a proposed plan for carrying out such a flight.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, the government’s COVID-19 Task Force chairman Iulogologo Joseph Pereira confirmed that the governor has received the petition from the Alliance.
“Plans are being prepared to determine how we can repatriate our stranded residents without risking an accidental COVID-19 transmission by an asymptomatic carrier,” Iulogologo told Samoa News last Friday morning.
Asked how the governor is going to address or respond to the petition, Iulogologo said, the “Governor's response will be driven by the nature of the plans which are being prepared for review by the Task Force for subsequent recommendations to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor for their review and final decision.”
“The paramount issue is containing any accidental transmission by any of our repatriated residents,” said Iulogologo when asked about the important issues the Governor is reviewing before making a decision on the repatriation flights.
He explained that the committee appointed by the governor to come up with plans for repatriation was initially to have submitted them last Thursday, but “there are still issues requiring further assessment and consideration thus extension has been granted with the hope that said plans will be submitted for the Task Force's review” by tomorrow — Tuesday.
“The decision will depend on the comprehensiveness of the plans with regard to addressing all issues of concern,” said Iulogologo, who is also the governor’s executive assistant.
Many locally and off island are asking if the governor will make public his decision regarding a repatriation flight.
“I am sure that the decision will be made public as I am sure that stranded residents are eagerly awaiting some word from the government relative to addressing their needs and their desire to return home,” was Iulogologo’s reply.
“The Governor doesn't take lightly the earnest requests from our stranded residents to return, but the health and safety of the bulk of our population living here takes precedence,” he points out.
“We have all made tremendous sacrifices to keep our islands COVID-19 free given the very high health risks of our population,” he noted. “New information has revealed the high susceptibility of Pacific Islanders to the coronavirus which heightens our resolve not to be exposed to potential danger.”
At last month’s task force week, the governor appointed a separate committee co chaired by Port Administration director and the Police Commissioner to plan an exercise for ASG response to an arriving repatriation flight, with the scenario of 300 passengers on board. That exercise was initially planned for the evening of Sept. 10th where the governor was to attend, but it has since been moved to today.
Two-mock exercises were conducted last week at the airport to test all those to be involved in such an operation.
PETITION TO US PRESIDENT
A separate online petition was launched in June by “American Samoa Citizens Stranded” and sought to get 500 signatures. The petition is directed to US President Donald Trump, the American Red Cross and Congresswoman Aumua Amata and “seeks financial assistance for American Samoa citizens [nationals] stranded on the US mainland.”
“Financially, we are struggling to make ends meet” since Lolo closed American Samoa’s borders, the petition states in part.
The petition describes the hardship some of them currently face — not only staying in the US but also back home in the territory, where some of them still continue to pay rent in order to keep their homes.
The petition describes why some went to the US, for example, medical treatment and appointments.
“WE ARE BEGGING for assistance to please TAKE US HOME or an option of any Financial assistance to help US put a roof over our head, food to eat and transportation while we await American Samoa to open its borders. PLEASE HELP,” the petition concluded.