Manglona urges COVID-19 Task Force chair to reassess support for travel bubble due to new high in South Korea
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said Friday that members of the Familiarization Tour, which arrived in the CNMI two Saturdays ago, feel safe in the CNMI and are enjoying their stay despite the rains in last couple of days.
As this developed, citing recent news reports that South Korea has posted a new high number of COVID-19 cases, Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) on Friday urged COVID-19 Task Force chair Warren Villagomez to rethink his decision to support the CNMI-South Korea travel bubble plan.
Speaking at a radio news briefing, Torres said he attended a gathering with the Familiarization Tour group at Kensington Hotel Saipan last Thursday night and that members of the tour were having an awesome time.
“Just the fact that they are here is a great success for us,” the governor said.
He said the travel bubble is happening this week and next week and moving forward, and that the Fam Tour is the critical part of that program.
Torres said it’s great to have the travel agents, YouTubers and other social media-influencers, and a film crew showcasing the CNMI.
“It was really a great evening. They acknowledge how safe we are. That’s the reason why they are here. They feel safe,” he said.
Quoting tour group members, Torres said they are enjoying their stay here despite the rainy weather in the last couple of days. “They are very grateful for the partnership and we look forward to a better relationship as well as our tourists coming here,” he the governor said.
Marianas Visitors Authority and Commonwealth Ports Authority officials and staff welcomed about 40 members of the Fam Tour at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport last July 17.
The Travel Bubble agreement between the CNMI and South Korea took effect last July 1, facilitating the resumption of air travel between the two destinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Separately, in a letter Friday to Villagomez, Manglona said while he understands the reasoning behind the government’s effort and eagerness to restart tourism, the COVID-19 conditions in South Korea have changed drastically since the travel bubble plan’s initial negotiations.
Manglona said the news as reported by regional and national media outlets about a new high number of COVID-19 cases in South Korea is alarming.
The senator said that, based on Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency data, less than 13% of the country’s population have been fully vaccinated. “This makes the travel bubble very worrisome and disturbing,” he said.
Manglona noted that South Korea increased last Monday its social distancing regulations to Level 4 in the Seoul metropolitan area due to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
He said the rate of delta variant in domestic infections in South Korea reached 33.9%, up from 23.3% a week earlier.
“It was only 2.5% in late June. It is estimated that, in the coming weeks, the delta variant will be the most dominant COVID-19 variant in South Korea,” the senator said.
Manglona said that only a little over 50% of the NMI population is fully vaccinated. “While those of us who are fully vaccinated may not panic, we cannot be complacent. We have to be concerned about our children under 12 years of age and those of us not fully vaccinated,” he said.
The senator said there are still too many uncertainties about these highly contagious COVID-19 variants.