US Air Force planes heading to Antarctica denied permission to land
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Concerned with exposing American Samoa to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga denied the landing and overnighting in American Samoa this past week of the US military crew heading to Antarctica to support Operation Deep Freeze.
“I regret to inform you that this mission cannot come through American Samoa because I cannot in good conscience subject our people to this deadly virus,” Lolo wrote last week to US Air Force Lt. Col. Matthew Johnson.
“We are a small island with very limited resources, limited healthcare facilities and finite options if the virus does enter our shores,” Lolo explained. “Our population is very vulnerable because of the high incidence of Diabetes, Hypertension, Heart Diseases, and many other underlying medical conditions.”
The military had requested permission to land 3 aircraft with an overnight stay for 31 crewmembers heading to Antarctica, with a stopover in New Zealand. The flights had planned to stop over in the territory this past weekend and the military personnel were to be housed at designated ASG quarantine sites, while on island.
In his letter, the governor apologies for the late reply noting, “We fully understand and are very much sensitive to the importance and significance of this mission to the United States’ continued presence in the Antarctic.”
He attributed ASG’s delay in response “to our struggle attempting to demonstrate our deep sense of patriotism while continuing to preempt the accidental entry of the Coronavirus into our home.”
He pointed out that American Samoa remains the only US Jurisdiction which “has not been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and we have made great sacrifices to maintain and to continue our ‘Free Coronavirus Bubble".”
According to the governor, American Samoa recognizes and acknowledges with gratitude and appreciation the efforts by the US Air Force “to engage in protective protocols exhibiting your sensitivity and support of our efforts to keep American Samoa COVID-19 free.”
The ASG Health Department had already submitted to them the local protocols that are in place due to COVID-19 and the US Air Force had committed to complying with them, the governor said.
However, he said the perceived uncontrolled exponential surge in the number of COVID-19 cases and the corresponding uptick in the number of deaths “have emboldened our resolve to take even harsher protective measures to eliminate any possible risk of accidental transmission.”
“With the lack of concrete science-based data on the nature of the virus, adhering to preventative protocols does not provide absolute guarantee of no virus transmission,” Lolo pointed out.
Samoa recently announced its first positive Coronavirus case, which “is now creating further threat and uncertainty for us here,” the governor said.
“We have been making difficult sacrifices since the beginning of our COVID-19 pandemic,” he said adding that American Samoa has not allowed any of its residents stranded in the United States to return home “because we are afraid of the consequences given that our population here are very vulnerable because of major underlying conditions.”