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Governor formally requests Hawaiian flights suspensions for July

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Due to the recent “uptick” in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Hawaii, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga early this week requested, and Hawaiian Airlines says it “will comply” with suspension of flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago through July 31st.

The governor had hinted at the continued suspension of flights at last Sunday’s  ASG coronavirus task force meeting and when he met Wednesday with Health officials and the local Hawaiian representative, the governor announced his plans.

As of Wednesday this week the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hawaii continues to increase — up to a total of 744, with four more new positive cases, according to the Hawaii Health Department tally on its website.

“Given the unstable coronavirus situation in Hawaii and [US] West Coast states, we have no recourse but to extend our border closure for an additional 30-days, which moves reconsideration to Aug. 1, 2020” to resume flights, Lolo wrote in a June 15th letter to Hawaiian president and chief executive officer Peter Ingram.

While American Samoa has increased its quarantine capability, the governor pointed out that the territory’s “only acute hospital’s capacity is very limited” and “it can easily be overwhelmed if we have a coronavirus outbreak.”

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Hawaiian spokesperson Ann Botticelli said yesterday morning from Honolulu that the airline “did receive the request” from the governor “and will comply.”

At the outset of the letter, the governor notes that the “recent uptick” in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hawaii “has triggered rethinking of our original intention to the possible limited opening of our borders in July, given that Hawaii was doing an exceptional job in containing the spread of the virus towards the end of May and beginning of June.”

Despite these “courageous efforts” by Hawaii Gov. David Ige, the “recent recorded spike in the new numbers in the past week appears to be that the upward trending in the West Coast states is contributive to the ascending in Hawaii,” Lolo said.

According to the governor, it is also “very disconcerting that the COVID-19 pandemic situation” on the US mainland “is not stabilizing” with many large cities and states “experiencing spikes” in coronavirus cases “causing further uneasiness and hardening our resolve to maintain status quo.”

He informed Ingram that there is “tremendous pressure” from American Samoa residents “stranded” in Hawaii and other states to open borders with Hawaii.

“This discontentment, grievances, annoyances, and frustrations” have resulted in lawsuits filed with the High Court questioning the authority of the Governor to “close our borders and implement restrictions,” he wrote to Ingram.

The governor is referring to the two separate lawsuits filed by Bryan Jackson and Steven Jay Pincus Hueter with the Trial Division of the High Court. Samoa News notes that Ige is also faced with a lawsuit filed in both state and federal courts over his COVID-19 restrictions.

Yesterday, Hawaiian Air filed another request with the US Transportation Department for an extension of an exemption from provisions of the federal CARES Act “service obligation” to serve Pago Pago until July 31st — following a request from the territory’s governor.

The current exemption from service obligation expires June 30th and was based on the governor’s previous requests for suspension of flights to prevent the spread of the virus to American Samoa.

The federal department is expected to issue a decision in the coming days on Hawaiian’s latest request, which included the governor’s June 15th letter to Ingram.