Passengers checking in at Faleolo Airport for a special flight that repatriated New Zealand and US citizens early this month.
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – 25 MAY 2020: Despite it being a cargo flight, it was known to the Samoan government and officials that passengers would be on last Fridays Air New Zealand cargo flight. This is according to the Chairman of the National Emergency Operations Centre, Ulu Bismark Crawley.
He confirmed that passengers were expected on the flight despite Prime Minister Tuilaepa saying it was a cargo only flight.
According to Ulu, ten VIP passengers were given priority on the flight as they were really needed for their work here in Samoa such as diplomats and expats. Among the passengers was the newly appointed Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese.
He also confirmed that health officials were already waiting at the airport and carried out screening routine despite being informed at the last minute.
A health official confirmed with Talamua that rather than passengers coming into the arrival area, the health officials conducted screening on the tarmac before the passengers were ushered into the waiting vehicles.
The health official also confirmed a request from some passengers to be self-isolated at their homes.
But NEOC Chairman Ulu Bismark Crawley refused, as this may open the door for future requests from passengers in the flight expected to arrive this Friday, hence the decision to have them all quarantined in one hotel.
The official also confirmed that the passengers were originally to be allocated to the Orator Hotel but there was some confusion probably due to the late notification and the passengers landed at the Le Manumea Hotel at Vailima and later at the Samoana hotel.
Le Manumea Hotel was reportedly not prepared to quarantine passengers and were on their normal Friday routine under the lockdown. The Chief Justice had checked under quarantine at the Orator Hotel.
The confusion has caused some public concern as any lapses at Samoa’s borders could easily open the gate for the virus to enter through incoming passengers.
NEOC insists that all passengers on this Friday’s repatriation flight will have to satisfy the COVID-19 travel measures before entering Samoa and will be quarantined for 14 days on arrival.