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Economic council presents reopening plan to House

Members of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors meet with the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism on Wednesday in the House Chamber. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

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THE House Committee on Commerce and Tourism met with members of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors on Wednesday to discuss the council plans for the reopening  the CNMI tourism industry.

Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, committee chair, said, “The committee, at the request of the Legislature, wanted to know what the proposed plan of reopening the CNMI internationally is, meaning international flights coming in, and bringing back our bread and butter, which is tourism.”

The committee requested that members of the council appear before the committee for an update, to which the council sent two of its members, Alex Sablan and Matthew Deleon Guerrero.

Sablan chairs the council subcommittee on tourism infrastructure and the resumption of tourism, while Deleon Guerrero chairs the subcommittee on economic and fiscal diversification.

“We’re tasked to develop a plan on how to open up internationally, with respect to this pandemic,” said Rep. Guerrero.

“The struggle here is how do we address quarantine, which is an essential component to make sure that our people are not infected with this virus?”

He said the committee has come up with a position paper to submit to the governor’s Covid-19 task force, to seek its guidance in the process to allow Korean visitors to enter first, “because the Korean market is cold, not hot.”

“It’s something that we’re trying to explore because they’re ready. According to [Alex Sablan], Asiana Airlines wanted to establish eight flights a week, Thursday to Sunday, as a trial basis,” he said.

“How do you plan? Where do you start?”

The first thing that comes to mind, said Guerrero, is the testing process, to make sure that every tourist who travels out of Korea has the certification and tests negative for the virus.

“What about if they come here? What is the process? Well, we’re going to see some sort of testing. Is it free, or is it going to be an expense to the tourists? Those are the deciding factors. What do we do? Who is going to cover the costs?” he asked.

“So we’re looking at, hopefully, $300 for the initial testing. But is that something that is feasible for a tourist, to absorb additional costs? That’d probably be pinching their pockets. We want to make sure that when we allow the Korean market to enter, we need to provide some sort of incentive because people are still afraid to travel.”

The other issue is how tourists are going to be segregated from the community, “to make sure they don’t roam around the streets of Garapan or anywhere in Saipan itself.”

Guerrero added, “The idea came about to have one hotel…for incoming passengers from Korea,” noting that Kensington Hotel is probably an ideal place because it’s “away” from most residential areas.

He said another concern is how restaurants would feel about having Korean tourists in their establishments.

“Again, the safety of the community is the vital key component. Are the employees of these establishments going to be tested randomly, weekly, daily? Because you never know. One of these tourists might show negative results, then come here [to Saipan] and have a positive result,” he said, noting that contact tracing will be a big component of the reopening plan.

The committee is still reviewing the proposed plan by the council, he said. “Nothing is set in motion yet, that’s been final. There’s no tentative date as to when [the reopening will be]. It was thrown up in the air that maybe September…or October, until we get the Covid-19 task force to approve the plan,”

“For now,” he added, “it’s all in the planning stages, and that is why [Alex Sablan and Matthew Guerrero were here] to present their case to the committee.”

He said tourists would essentially only be visiting Saipan and not its neighboring islands.

“For now, we’re only thinking about Saipan. We want to make sure that we can first sustain this, and make sure that none of this goes to the neighboring islands, because if you can’t contain it here, [then] you can’t contain it on Tinian; you can’t contain it on Rota.”

As for passengers transiting through Korea with their final destination being Saipan, Guerrero said, “What we understand from the Korean government [is] that any other passenger coming into Korea… from hot zones…will be quarantined in Korea for 14 days.”

“Do we allow [those passengers] to transit here? That’s a possibility that we’re exploring,” he added.

 “You have to follow protocols. That protocols are based on the guidelines of the respective countries”

He said a “final product [of the reopening plan] will be coming out shortly once the task force approves of the proposed plan. The House is prepared and ready to address any concerns that the community has with respect to this [matter].”

The committee will reconvene to discuss the proposal before it is scheduled to meet again with the Governor’s Economic Council of Advisors on Aug. 13, he added.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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