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So far, 912 stranded residents have applied to return home

 Dr. Aifili John Tufa

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa residents accepted for the American Samoa repatriation program for flights from the US will not be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine at this time, while the Health Department has identified the Tradewinds Hotel to quarantine these travelers.

This is according to health officials during a news conference last Thursday morning where the Health Department provided an update on the COVID-19 vaccine and the American Samoa repatriation program for local residents stranded across the US.

Responding to media questions, acting Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua explained that travelers who repatriate will quarantine for 10-days in Hawaii followed by a 14-day quarantine in American Samoa.

Motusa explained that the government or DoH would take over the Tradewinds Hotel to house repatriated travelers during the required quarantine period.

Samoa News points out that Tradewinds Hotel posted an  “important notice” on its Facebook page last Thursday saying that the hotel and its affiliated businesses — Equator Restaurant, Equator Bar and Kofe plus cafe — will be closed to the public from Jan. 20, 2021 until further notice. It also says that the hotel’s business tenants will also re-locate.

During the news conference last Thursday, DoH Senior Epidemiologist, Dr. Aifili John Tufa explained that under the repatriation program, travelers will undergo a total of five COVID-19 tests — two tests in Hawaii, including the test given to the traveller before entering the 10-day quarantine in Honolulu — and three tests in American Samoa, including the first one before entering the 14-day quarantine in the Territory.

Asked about travelers under the repatriation program getting their COVID-19 vaccine while in the US before traveling to American Samoa, Motusa responded that, “maybe in the future there will be this requirement.”

“Once we understand the process for the Health Department in Hawaii and they will be able to support our people returning home, then that will be the encouragement, or a requirement for entry here,” he said.

Motusa pointed out that if this vaccine requirement is put on the repatriation program, that’s “either going to be costly or add more stress to our people.”

“But upon arrival here, they will be given a first dose, while in quarantine,” he pointed out.

Dr. Tufa notes that while the vaccine is available in the US, the vaccine is targeting specific priority groups first. He also says that in most states, vaccination of the general public has not yet started.

While there is no firm date to commence repatriation flights for American Samoa for residents stranded across the U.S, Dr. Tufa said DoH is preparing to start the repatriation flights 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. (See Samoa News edition Jan. 8, 2021 for details).