Sen. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) has expressed strong opposition to Star Marianas Air’s plan of reopening direct flights between Guam and Rota on Jan. 1, 2022, fearful that it may compromise the health and safety of the people of Rota amid this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Santos recommended last week to CNMI COVID-19 Task Force chair Warren Villagomez to defer the implementation of the Rota/Guam direct flight until such time the situation is “properly assessed.”
She recommended maintaining the health protocols that have been in practice since the start of the pandemic, ensuring that the health and welfare of people continue to be safeguarded.
The lawmaker reiterated her position that Saipan, unlike Rota, has the manpower, CNMI government-approved quarantine facilities, infrastructure, resources, and the seasoned experience necessary to handle what may arise.
“Let us continue to utilize the system that works and hopefully in the very near future, we can revisit the discussion to open the direct flights without compromising the health, welfare, and safety of our people,” said Santos in her letter to Villagomez.
The senator strongly recommends that the task force first meet with the Rota municipality leadership prior to making any decisions to talk about their strategies and quickly adjust for the new COVID-19 variant. She underscored the importance of conducting town hall meetings at each village on Rota to listen to people’s concern. She said if a majority of people feel that it would be in the best interest of the whole to delay this endeavor, then it could be revisited in the next six to 12 months.
The senator also asked if the task force has assessed the feasibility of designating a quarantine facility on Rota.
“Do we have the human resources and medical equipment necessary to ensure that patients will receive the best care possible?” she asked.
Santos said overcoming access disparities imposed by Rota’s geographical location can hinder the very best of intentions, hence the critical importance of planning and taking into considerations the deficiencies.
The senator said she will continue to ask that passengers entering Rota be mandated to take a COVID-19 test 24-48 hours prior to boarding their flight. If this is not possible, she said, then there should be nurses or trained individuals at the airport ready to test each passenger as they disembark.
Santos said she understands that it would be difficult to prevent the virus from eventually reaching Rota, but the task force has done its job thus far. “We must continue to be vigilant and implement additional prevention strategies,” she said.
Rota is COVID-19-free.
The senator said it only takes one person to begin the spread.
She noted that Saipan and Guam are currently struggling to deal with the community spread and its medical and contact tracing teams are exhausted.
Stressing that her foremost concern will always be the health and welfare of Rota’s people, Santos said public convenience can be implemented at a later date and should not trump nor take precedence over people’s health.
Starting last Dec. 1, Star Marianas suspended all its interisland flights, citing risks presented by an “unhealthy flight environment.” Last Dec. 9, Star Marianas returned to operation, providing organized charters among the three islands—Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
Star Marianas Inc. general manager Jose Cruz recently informed Villagomez and Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther L. Muna that they intend to resume daily flights between Rota and Guam on Jan. 1, 2022.