By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – 17 NOVEMBER 2020: Ten Samoan dual passport holders who arrived on last Friday’s repatriation flight will face penalties under the existing State of Emergency Orders.
Chairman of the National Emergency Operational Centre (NEOC) Agafili Shem Leo told the media that come next week, they will activate the State of Emergency orders on these people with regards to penalty.
He also warned dual passport holders not to underestimate the Samoan immigration system by traveling to Samoa using a Samoan passport and returning using a New Zealand passport.
“Our system can easily track you down,” he emphasized.
Agafili explained that the repatriation flights are to bring back Samoan residents who have been stranded abroad under the pandemic lockdown and genuinely want to return home. Unfortunately, the flight last week saw 10 people with dual citizenship taking advantage of these flights and are here not to stay but for various reasons.
He called on the people to pray for this virus to pass and borders to be opened again. “We need to work together and give the opportunity to family members who truly need to come back home.”
Three more repatriation flights
Since Samoa closed its borders in March, 15 repatriation flights have been recorded with 3 more expected before the end of the year.
These are two flights from New Zealand and one from the United States, according to Agafili.
All these remaining flights will follow the same process other flights have complied with previously.
The US repatriation flight
The flight from the United States arrives on 28 December and there is already public concern that the passengers registered are from countries with a high number of Covid-19 positive cases.
The passengers will includes people from the United States, students from China and Europe, patients returning from India, missionaries from the Philippines and Hawai’i.
But according to the Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, the Ministry has in place systems and processes in preparation to protection the country using their response team.
The flights from New Zealand are scheduled for 27 November and 4 December while the United States flight arrives on the 28 December 2020.
Side room at airport for passengers outside of New Zealand
Leausa said one of the health precautions taken by the Ministry include allocating a side room at the Faleolo International Airport to screen and test all passengers who are not originally from New Zealand.
This was activated last Friday after identifying 20 passengers including students and sailors from cruise ships on-board the flight.
“Cruise ships are one of the avenues noted with many Covid-19 cases so after identifying they were not from New Zealand, they were taken to a side room for testing and were only released to quarantine after being cleared of any symptoms,” said Leausa.
One of the recent repatriation flights had 274 passengers, and out of that number, only 4 were young people and the rest were elderly passengers with some of them on wheelchairs.
The concern according to Leausa is the risk of them being infected by the virus and for families to have them travel is not helping.
Health workers had the extra job of pushing their wheelchairs around and they needed extra assistance at the quarantine sites to use the shower and to get around.
“We had to isolate them at the Faleolo Health Clinic where our health care workers can assist them,” said Leausa.
NEOC is encouraging families to keep the elderly safe with families abroad until things return to normal, and then they can travel again.