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Lolo points out abuse of travel policy on the Samoa Airways charter

Samoa Airways crew
Witnessed first-hand a Ta’u medical referral patient shopping for cement

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has instructed the Health Department and others to come up with a set policy to follow for the use of the ASG charter, operated by Samoa Airways, for flights to and from the Manu’a island group.

The governor gave the verbal instructions at Sunday’s government coronavirus task force meeting, after DoH Epidemiologist Dr Aifili John Tufa provided the latest update on the emergency and medical evacuation flights from Manu’a between Apr. 26 and May 2nd for which the total number of travelers was “a bit high”.

According to the DoH data, medical referrals and emergency evacuations for this period from Ta’u island was 37, while departure from Tutuila to Ta’u was 14. For Ofu island, arrivals totaled 17 while departures from Tutuila were at 14.

The governor reminds DoH and the task force about the purpose of these charter flights, which is for use in emergency situations to uplift patients from Manu’a, but the way it is right now “the aircraft flies there to bring one emergency patient” and ends up bringing all others who don’t qualify as emergency patients.

Lolo claims that many travelers from Manu’a are coming to Tutuila for shopping. For example, he witnessed first-hand one case where a traveler was supposed to be on Tutuila  last week as a medical emergency referral patient from Ta’u but he observed the person shopping at a local outlet for cement.

“Set the right policy for the emergency or sick patient to bring over for these flights,” Lolo instructed Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua and others involved with these charter flights.

Lolo said that many people coming from Manu’a are then out-and-about all over Tutuila while the government is enforcing restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Among those restrictions, he said is for people to stay and work from home.

He reiterated that these flights are only for emergency situations and medical evacuation. He observed that it’s much cheaper to send a physician to Manu’a instead of many travelers coming to Tutuila.

The Samoa government’s Samoa Airways has stationed in Pago Pago one of it’s Twin-Otter aircraft along with pilots and an engineer.

Meanwhile, DoH officials say that one of their concerns — and challenges — is travelers from Manu’a sailing here by alia without them knowing — while DoH continues to attempt to monitor all incoming vessels and passengers under COVID-19 measures.