NMI tourism on track, will help businesses with recovery dollars, easing COVID restrictions
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres told the Journal that the lifting of quarantine for returning residents from Korea who have been vaccinated can only be good for the NMI.
“For us that’s great news. … Now that Korea has lifted their quarantine we are half way there, if not three quarters of the way there.”
Speaking at a news conference on April 30, Torres said he had other good news. “I have heard Jeju has been approved to travel here.” He has not yet seen relevant documents, he said. “I am glad that we are pushing forward. Mid-June to July is our target.” By that time frame the NMI will have herd immunity.” Compared to other destinations the governor said, “We have a higher threshold in terms of immunity.”
The governor said he is looking to welcoming Korean visitors. He said earlier that the NMI has already established that it is safe from COVID and able to sustain that safety. When Korean tourists choose destinations, he said, “I hope that this will be remembered.”
David DLG Atalig, director of the Department of Finance said his office has not yet received guidelines from the U.S. Treasury for its American Recovery Plan act spending. The NMI will be ready when those arrive, he said. “Yesterday and today, we have grant workshops. We continue to fine tune the priorities for that funding,” he said.
Atalig said the NMI is preparing to assist businesses with “over $50 million in the next two years.” Aside from the hard-hit tourism industry, the administration will work with the Commonwealth Economic Development Authority, the Small Business Development Center and others to ensure that the funds are disbursed where needed, particularly to those businesses that do not receive funding from other sources.
Sheryl Cochran, director of the FEMA Recovery Office in the NMI; said the office was not common. “We have a long-term recovery office here, which is very different than what FEMA normally does.” Her office is overseeing dispersal of the Disaster Recovery funds for post-typhoon needs.
FEMA aims to ensure it can assist with having sufficient labor force in the NMI for construction, building codes and more. FEMA has presently seen 107 homes or 37% built for typhoon survivors, and hopes to be about 57% complete by August, she said. For homes requiring repair, 80 have been completed in Saipan and seven in Tinian, she said.
Despite the program’s success, Cochran told the Journal, “We had some significant issues we had to deal with.” These have included property ownership, she said as well as completion of probate. We have 25 cases pending judicial review.” Cochran said, “We’ve completed 74 of those cases already.”
Also, she said,” The big success story is the number of local contractors involved in this program.” One “national contractor” is part of the program, she said. In addition, FEMA has been flexible she said, when contractors have pointed out issues that may delay work. “We have made those modifications to the program. We do have a couple of those challenges,” Cochran said.
In other news, travel to the Northern Mariana Islands will be easier, with some quarantine restrictions eased on April 29. Travelers are divided into six groups:
A: Fully vaccinated in the NMI
B-1: Critical and essential workers, with travel pre-approved
B-2: Essential workers, with travel pre-approved, who are fully vaccinated and have proof
B-3: Essential workers, with travel pre-approved who are not vaccinated and do not have proof
C: Travelers from a Level 1 CDC jurisdiction, who did not lay over in a Level 2 or higher
Jurisdiction, and have proof of vaccination
D: Those who do not qualify for the other groups
Guam pulls back
Guam must wait 14 more days until May 15 before “opening” for tourism, and possibly easing quarantine restrictions.
At 3 p.m. the day before the island was due to open, Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero announced the decision to hold off on moving forward with that largely ceremonial milestone, at a press conference.
The April 30 news will disappoint businesspeople and residents with essential travel plans, those already off-island and those waiting to plan travel, and residents in the Northern Mariana Islands planning to come to Guam, especially as the NMI has eased its own quarantine restrictions, also in anticipation of the first tourists arriving in Saipan from Korea within weeks.
Guam saw two COVID clusters in early and mid-April. These occurred after a period with zero or low single digit numbers of positive cases and are responsible for the postponement.
Leon Guerrero said, “This update was based on science and medical advice.” Arthur San Agustin, director of the Guam Department of Public Health and social services said the decision would add “another layer of protection.”
The Department of Public Health unveiled what it called a “proposed Transition in Traveler Quarantine into Guam, “which would basically allow vaccinated individuals to avoid quarantine, – with proof of vaccination – to include verification from the vaccinating authority, with testing, and monitoring. Individuals without those would go through quarantine and test on Day 6.
Leon Guerrero said should the island re-open and should there be another surge in COVID cases, the island would not necessarily close down again. “I would look at would our herd immunity is,” and other factors, she said.
The governor said of the late announcement that there was “no intention to hold back,” and that decisions were made due to events of the recent days. “The two weeks will give us more time to be certain of the consequences,” she said.
As to other developments, she told the Journal a reciprocal arrangement is possible with the Northern Mariana Islands if their residents are able to use their vaccinations and proof to enter Guam. “We are reaching out the CNMI. I am envisioning it as a passport of travel,” she said.
Airport revenues ebb and flow; vendors to receive relief
The Guam International Airport Authority’s executive manager, during an April 29 board of directors meeting, said there was still no update on Guam’s re-opening, as of the meeting.
“We are awaiting [Public Health]’s input on what’s going to happen on May 1 and beyond,” said John M. Quinata, executive director of the airport.
John A. Rios, comptroller, announced how the authority is doing financially. For the month of March, the authority showed a profit of $2.7 million, amounting to a total $6 million profit for the fiscal year to date. Even so, he said, there was a $455,000 loss for March, and $4.8 million loss for the fiscal year to date.
“We will still meet the debt coverage,” Rios said.
Procurement for phase one of the runway rehabilitation is complete, and phase two is underway. Ian Corp. will finish the project, with a schedule of 210 days from notice to proceed for an estimated $4.5 million. Artemio “Ricky” Hernandez, deputy executive manager, said the funds are expected to be received by Federal Aviation Administration shortly.
The board also announced more than $395,000 in funds to help support the airport’s concession vendors through the Concessions Relief Andendum.
“It’s actually a new program that specifies that these funds are meant for relief for some of our concession tenants,” Hernandez said. He said the American Rescue Plan will have a similar allocation for concessions, but GIAA is unsure of the exact amount.
In other airport news, the airport authority will be switching to a web-based learning system for employees. The new learning management system will digitize initial onboarding and training of employees. The learning curriculum can be customized to best fit Guam’s airport, but there are templates provided as well. eXelearning LLC, which does business as Airport E-Learning will help get the program off the ground.
“I think it’s important to have this sort of hire to retire tracking system for the employees,” said Brian J. Bamba, chairman of GIAA. mbj