NMI to charge for quarantine; cannabis investors arrive
 In the Aug. 4 Northern Mariana Islands press conference, Warren Villagomez, chairman of the COVID-19 taskforce said that individuals arriving in Saipan will soon be charged for quarantine. No details of fees were given. As the Kanoa Resort is now full, he said the Mariana Resort will open of Aug. 6. Villagomez urged arrivals into the NMI to be precise in preparing for their arrivals. “Be as accurate as possible in your registrations.” He also said the taskforce is discussing re-opening of schools and the possibility of interactive sessions. “If schools decide to reopen, we’re working with them.”

Esther Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Health Corp. urged people not to complain about quarantine – wherever they are quarantined. “We are trying to protect our borders,” she said. Of 101 people that arrived on the most recent flight (Aug. 1), she said only five people had been released. “That determination of ‘essential worker’ is made by us.” Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres emphasize that the NMI’s system is working. “We treat everybody the same,” he said.

Muna said no positive cases had resulted from community testing in Saipan, Rota or Tinian. She also said that arrivals with negative PCS tests were then testing positive on arrival in Saipan.

“These individuals are presenting without symptoms.”

 The NMI tests people on arrival and then after the fifth day in quarantine. Muna told the Journal that while construction is considered an essential industry, determination of quarantine would be made with each traveler arriving connected with that industry. While Guam is not necessarily a high-risk area, she said, “Guam is a gateway to the high-risk areas.” She said regarding quarantine and each particular project, “If it’s a congregant setting, it’s likely.”

Victoria I. Benavente, director of the NMI Department of Labor said the department is receiving 300 to 500 additional unemployment applications per week and this week – the week of Aug. 3 is the second week of payments. As of July 31, $35 million in payments had been disbursed, Benavente said.

As at the end of June she said there were about 6,000 to 7,000 unemployed in the NMI, but that DOL had received notification that more employers were letting their employees go. The NMI received approval for $70 million in PUA payments. Benavente told the Journal, “I’m sure we’re looking at requesting more.”


Stateside JV gets NMI job
TEC-AECOM Pacific JV of Charlottesville, Va., was awarded a $15 million firm-fixed-price modification to increase the maximum dollar value of an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for architect-engineering services for the preparation of National Environmental Policy Act documents and environmental studies at various Navy and Marine Corps activities located within the Pacific Basin and Indian Ocean areas.

After award of this modification, the total cumulative contract value will be $88 million. Work will be performed predominantly in Northern Mariana Islands (90%), according to a Aug. 1 release Chamorro Standard time. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific in Hawaii awarded the task order, which is expected to be completed July 2023.


ADB gives Palau $20 million for businesses, COVID; US gives $7 million
A $20 million loan from the Asian Development Bank will help implement Palau’s economic stimulus package for its unemployed and offer assistance in finding temporary work in areas such as agriculture, the environment, and elderly care; support for free pre-school and childcare for lower income families, which will particularly benefit women; and subsidies for utilities such as electricity and water, according to a July 29 release from the ADB.

 ADB’s program will also help the government upgrade the country’s health sector by financing the purchase of ventilators for Belau National Hospital, establishing a COVID-19 hotline for public inquiries, and funding overtime and hazard pay for frontline health workers.

ADB has expanded its assistance to $20 billion for COVID-19 response for developing member countries. Palau has a population of about 20,000 but has seen its hospitality and tourism sector hard hit since closure of the country’s borders. At present Palau has no COVID cases.

The ADB opened an office in Koror in January.

In other Palau news, the United States is granting the country $7 million as part of the financing of a second fiber option cable spur connecting Palau to the ECHO cable network., according to an Aug. 1 release from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The government of Australia is conducting a $561,000 marine survey in preparation for the second cable, according to a May 7 press statement from the Australian Embassy in Palau. Other support is being provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.


United flies to Manila, adjusts Micronesia service
United airlines adjusted its schedule until Sept. 30 on Aug. 1 The details are
Guam – Chuuk – Pohnpei – Kosrae – Kwajalein – Majuro – Honolulu 737-700 operates on following dates: 24-25AUG, 18-19SEP
Guam – Honolulu 1 daily 777-200
Guam – Koror 737-700 operates on following dates: 13AUG, 03SEP, 17SEP
Guam – Manila effective 11SEP 2 weekly 737-800 (confirmed service resumption as of 01AUG)
Guam – Pohnpei – Chuuk – Guam 737-700 operates on following dates: 01-02AUG 08-09AUG, 12-13SEP20, 26-27SEP20
Guam – Saipan eff 03AUG 3 weekly 737-700
Guam – Tokyo Narita eff 03AUG Increase from 7 to 10 weekly, 737-700 operating
Guam – Yap 737-700 operates on following dates: 02AUG, 23AUG, 20SEP


NMI publishes cannabis regs; opens licensing process; sees investors arrive
The Northern Mariana Islands – where recreational and medicinal use will be legal, announced the certification of the cannabis rules and regulations in the Commonwealth Register Volume 42, Number 7 on July 28. 

Applications and resources can be downloaded on the NMI Governor’s official website: https://governor.gov.mp/priorities/cannabis/
Enquiries regarding Cannabis Commission applications should be emailed to the following contacts: Saipan: [email protected]; Tinian: [email protected]; [email protected] 

In the NMI press conference on Aug. 4, chairwoman of the Cannabis Commission, Nadine Deleon Guerrero told the Journal that despite the downturn in tourism – a potential market for the NMI outside investment is still possible.

“We continue to communicate with our investors; we currently have an investor in quarantine right now.”  The investor – actually two people arrived in Saipan on Aug. 3 – one from Washington and the other from Taiwan, she said. Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said it was a good sign that the individuals were prepared to enter quarantine. “You know that’s a commitment in itself.”


USCIS hikes prices; Trusted Travel enrolment halted
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would increase fees from Oct. 1 by 20%. “Current fees would leave the agency underfunded by about $1 billion per year,” USCIS said in an Aug. 1 release. A $10 discount applies to online applications, USCIS said.

USCIS increased its fees by 21% in December 2016.

As for concerns about particular cases, Sharon Rummery, public affairs officer for USCIS in San Francisco told the Journal, “For processing times, please see our Historical National Average Processing Time (in Months) for All USCIS Offices for Select Forms By Fiscal Year webpage. The Check Case Processing Times webpage allows an individual to check processing times for specific forms at specific offices, as well.”

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced July 20 that Trusted Traveler Programs enrollment centers will remain closed until at least Sept. 8.


Mariana Islands COVID numbers jump up
The Northern Mariana Islands has 46 positive cases as of Aug. 3. Guam’s total was at 359 as of Aug. 2, but announced another nine cases Aug. 3 – none of which came from the U.S. military and another seven cases Aug. 4 for a total of 375.

The Department of Public Health and Social Services will now accept antigen testing and Abbot ID Now tests, as well as PCR testing for arriving residents, all of which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Joint Information Center.


In other news:
A federal judge in the District Court of Puerto Rico ruled Aug. in Pena Martinez  v. US Department of Health and Human Services that the federal government’s exclusion of Puerto Rico residents from three major social  benefits programs is an unconstitutional violation of equal protection.

The court ruled in favor of nine plaintiffs who would qualify for federal benefits programs if instead of living in Puerto Rico they lived in one of the fifty states. The decision expands on Vaello Madero, addressing not only SSI benefits, but also the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps,” and the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, which helps cover the cost of a prescription drug plan.


A Bank of Hawaii employee tested positive at the Hagatna branch, according to an Aug. 4 release. The employee had no close contact with other employees or customers but is self-quarantining at home. The bank is also sanitizing at the branch.
Guam’s real estate market dropped by 35% during the first half of 2020, with 522 real estate transactions compared to 741 in 2019. Total sales volume in the same period was $181,7 million, which was a 16% decrease compared to last year.

In general the market is still challenged by a shortage of supply according to Siska S. Hutapea, president of Cornerstone Valuation Guam Inc. in an Aug. 3 release.

The biggest purchase was made by Honhui Guam LLC, which purchased the former Royal Palm site for $19.2 million. Together with Honhui’s adjacent $15.6 million property purchase in the first quarter of 2020, this is intended as a resort destination. Cornerstone said. mbj