With Israel initiating a ban on visitors who recently traveled to Japan and South Korea following a spike in coronavirus cases on both countries, questions of whether the CNMI would follow suit remains in the air.
Since China became subject to travel restrictions last January, the CNMI has been counting on visitors from Japan and Korea to keep its tourism economy afloat.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ chief of staff, Angel A. Demapan, said the administration has been monitoring the situation in both Japan and South Korea—the priority being to ensure that the islands are kept a coronavirus-free destination.
“We’re continuing to do our monitoring. …We believe we have an operation that has been very effective. To date, we remain a coronavirus-free destination,” Demapan said. “[We] understand that there’s some new developments in Korea and Japan, and we continue to monitor those situations. I know that it’s a much more amplified issue in South Korea, so we’re trying to make sure that we look at that, the proximities of where those cases are, [and] whether those are isolated cases in a specific region.”
The result of that monitoring will serve as a guideline on whether to recalibrate efforts in attracting tourists into the CNMI, Demapan said, adding that there are still a lot of countries that are free to travel.
“We’d like them to know that the Marianas is open,” Demapan added.
Operating within our means
As a tourist-based economy and being an island destination, any issue that affects the tourism industry impacts the economy, Demapan said. “What we’re doing in response to the economic challenges is we’re making sure that we continue to operate the government within our means. If that means reducing the work hours, then that’s a decision the administration has made.
“At this point in time, it comes down to decisions that are necessary, and not decisions that are unpopular. We need to make the tough decisions and in these times of economic challenges, it really calls upon bold and decisive leadership from all our leaders,” Demapan added.
He did not give any timelines as to when austerity measures will end.
“We do not have a timeline because we don’t know what to expect. We don’t know the longevity of the coronavirus outbreak,” he said. “So, not knowing how long that will impact us, we will prepare by fiscal year and, so for this fiscal year, we’re prepared as if this impact is going to last the entire fiscal year.”
Safety is the priority
The CNMI has yet to have a single case of the coronavirus. The Commonwealth Health Care Corp. recently stated that a sample of a low-priority suspected COVID-19 case that it had sent to the Centers for Disease Control for evaluation has tested negative for coronavirus.
Demapan said that the administration, with all its partners, has taken every step to make sure that the islands remain a coronavirus-free destination, and has been very successful at that, to date.
“We will continue those efforts, because our priority is to make sure that our community remains healthy, remains safe, and that our people [are] kept in a safe environment. We will do every effort to continue monitoring all our inbound travelers to make sure that we intercept any problematic or presumed cases at our port of entry before it gets out into our community,” he added.
As far as community concerns over an increase in prices of imported goods following quarantine procedures, he reiterated that safety is a priority.
“Right now, the priority is safety and, if having to quarantine imported goods and products [will] ensure safety, then we will continue to do that. We will prioritize the quarantine process for any products that we think have come from a coronavirus area, or any product that we think is contaminated,” Demapan said.
“Paramount above everything is the safety of our community so we will prioritize the quarantine process by any means necessary. There are concerns about supply and demand and whether prices of commodities will go up. At this point in time, I think the human life is more expensive than any other price, and we will not risk making decisions that will jeopardize human life.”