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Governor seeks Trump’s support in reactivating NMI tourism

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres last week wrote President Donald Trump a letter seeking his support for the CNMI plan to reactivate local tourism.

The governor also sent the president a copy of the CNMI Tourism Resumption Blueprint which, in partnership with the private sector, aims to resume international flights from South Korea.

Building upon the strength of the CNMI community-testing initiatives, the governor told Trump: “We seek to reestablish travel linkages with South Korea that will require each visitor to present, upon checking into their flight, certification of a negative Covid-19 test result produced within the preceding 72-hour period.”

The governor added, “We are in the process of instituting modifications throughout our tourism corridors to enhance monitoring and risk mitigation efforts among employees and residents, and we seek to establish channels of communication with the health officials of our source markets to ensure that if a health concern arises among their citizens while in the CNMI, all protocols necessary will be taken and respected.”

Torres told the president that the “federal government and the CNMI government are key partners in our tourism industry. Under your leadership, the CNMI economy has truly been given the opportunity to grow. We look forward to once more being productive members of the American economic community as we rise from the ramifications of this pandemic,” he added.

The CNMI blueprint is based on community-based testing and guidance from the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We feel that we are in a stable position to once more resume economic activity and resuming international flights is key to doing so in any meaningful way,” the governor said.

He said the Commonwealth heavily depends on the tourism industry, noting that it “accounts for approximately half of total economic activity and nearly all non-public sector employment income.”

He said the local economy has suffered due to the global collapse of tourism, but thanks to federal assistance and the efforts of the local healthcare and first responders “only 30 positive cases of Covid-19 [had been recorded] while initial estimates saw our peak infections reaching in excess of 6,000. I am also pleased to inform you that through our community-based testing initiatives, we have successfully tested over 15% of our population.”

Torres added, “We are in the process of instituting modifications throughout our tourism corridors to enhance monitoring and risk mitigation efforts among employees and residents, and we seek to establish channels of communication with the health officials of our source markets to ensure that if a health concern arises among their citizens while in the CNMI, all protocols necessary will be taken and respected.”

The CNMI blueprint describes the roles that the Commonwealth government, the local private sector, and source markets play in the resumption of tourism.

The CNMI government is responsible for “establishing a pathway for resumption of commercial activity based on results of the community-based testing initiative, reestablishing restrictions in the interest of safety for residents and visitors should concerns arise, and placing health and safety of residents and visitors as a priority.”

As for the local private sector, its responsibilities include, but are not limited to, establishing and enforcing mitigation and safety precautions among all customers facing elements of their commercial operation, ensuring prompt reporting of health concerns to the proper healthcare authorities, and maintaining the appropriate licensure and certification to engage in commercial activity.

The blueprint notes “any plan that seeks to resume international flights to the Saipan International Airport must be aimed toward mitigating the potential spread of the disease among the local population, prevent visitors from contracting the disease while present in the CNMI, and establish a framework to accomplish these goals while maintaining demand and affordability among the potential tourism market.”

The core elements of the tourism resumption program include expansion of the CNMI community-based testing initiative, connecting tourism corridors with community monitoring, and marketing safe CNMI tour packages.

The plan states that “tour and hotel operators are responsible for the monitoring and containment of their visitors, and should maintain adequate and up-to-date records of the names and contact information for tour staff who are in regular contact with visitors.”

Moving forward, the CNMI will be taking a three-pronged approach in mitigating the virus via international travel: 1) requiring origin testing 72 hours prior to landing in the Commonwealth, 2) modifying the existing tourism infrastructure to prioritize health monitoring and communication with the healthcare system, and 3) establishing channels of communication with source countries to ensure timely and accurate information transfers between the local health officials and governments of source market countries.

Furthermore, the Commonwealth Ports Authority will seek out incentives for airlines to resume flights to the CNMI.

“We look forward to once more being productive members of the American economic community as we rise from the ramifications of this pandemic,” Torres said in closing.

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