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Guam governor: Tourists may not return until 2021

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Guam may not be able to see tourists until at least the first quarter of 2021 and may not return to normal, or close to it, until a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said in a news briefing on Monday.

There is no new target date for reopening Guam's tourism after a July 1 plan was postponed, and there is still no decision whether to start testing at the airport.

"I would say if we are going to start seeing — if at all — we’re going to start seeing tourists I would say not until, like, the first quarter of next year and maybe only very limited amounts," the governor said in her latest Covid news briefing.

This depends on how the island's main tourism markets — South Korea, Japan and Taiwan — perceive Guam.

"We are part of the U.S. and as you know, the U.S. right now is in hot, hot, hot spots all over. They are lumping us in together with the U.S. so we are...to them, a very high-risk, hot spot area," the governor said.

The administration later said that this is just the governor's prediction and consideration of the timelines for an anticipated vaccine, which the governor also discussed.

 Little to no pedestrian traffic is seen at the Pleasure Island in Tumon, the epicenter of Guam tourism, on July 10. Photo by Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

There's still no certainty when a vaccine can be available worldwide.

Guam and its main sources of tourism still mandate a 14-day quarantine for most arriving passengers and returning residents.

But the governor said the tourism industry should "always be prepared," as GovGuam continues to try to strike a balance between protecting people's health and the health of the island's economy.

The Guam Visitors Bureau has been trying to convince three major tourism markets of Guam's status as a relatively Covid-safe destination.

Guam has seen a recent spike in Covid-19 cases, which some businessmen have said should not be a surprise because GovGuam recently increased its testing.

Some businessmen have been pressing for specific plans and guidance to help show a reasonable end to the state of emergency and the reopening of tourism.

More than 34,000 Guam workers have already been laid off, furloughed or got work hour cuts as a direct result of the Covid-19 crisis. That's 68% of Guam's entire private sector labor force.

Military, other industries

The governor said she does not expect a complete return of Guam's tourism until after two years.

"The reason is these countries also are just as concerned about this coronavirus that they're not even allowing their returning residents to just come back," she said, citing the required testing and quarantine when residents come back.

There are silver linings, however. The governor said she looks forward to seeing increased arrival of military ships to Guam for rest and recreation.

This, she said, is an industry that will help Guam keep its economy going.

The military's Covid quarantine guidelines on Guam, according to the governor, align with GovGuam's own guidelines.

The federal government has also sent and committed more than $1 billion to Guam — from direct government aid to unemployment benefits.

Guam is eyeing investors wanting to relocate from Hong Kong, the governor said, while the local government is trying to beef up agriculture and aquaculture while also trying to lure investments in telecom, financial services and data warehousing.

PCOR 4

Guam can only return to Pandemic Condition of Readiness 4 — where there are no Covid restrictions anymore — once a vaccine becomes available, the governor said.

"I don't know if we can say that we ever return to normal or we can say there will never be coronavirus infection here," she said, adding scientists estimate the coronavirus "is going to be with us for a long time if not forever. That is why they are looking expeditiously to provide the vaccine that's needed."

There is no timeline for the reopening of other businesses such as bingo halls, the governor said, because many of their patrons are the elderly, one of the most vulnerable populations for Covid-19.

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