US military required to enter NMI through Saipan; most positives from “mainland”

Esther L. Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Healthcare Center; told the Journal that U.S. military personnel are now required to enter the Northern Mariana Islands through Saipan as concern over the Delta variant entering the NMI continues.

Not all arrivals testing positive for COVID originate from Guam.

According to the CHCC’s statistics, as of Aug. 9, 109 positive passengers came from the U.S. mainland, 43 from “a U.S. territory,” and 23 were classified as international in origin. “The majority are coming on the United flight,” Muna told the Journal on Aug. 13 at the weekly news conference with Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres and his cabinet members.

The Commonwealth Health Care Center in Saipan confirmed an additional COVID-positive individual on Aug. 11, bringing the total since March 2020 to 211.

Muna said positive cases do include vaccinated individuals. She said of the positive cases, “Most of them are found on testing on Day 5.”

Typically, passenger numbers into the NMI on United flights had been high, Muna said, with numbers of more than 100. “What we’re seeing now is in the 80s, less than 70,” she said, with one flight arriving with 59 passengers, following the Aug. 2 announcement of five days of restriction of movement for arrivals.

As regards, the Delta variant, she said, “We know there’s a high risk. … We are in discussion to get more quarantine sites.”

She said that 74.2% of the population aged 12 and older have been fully vaccinated. 


NMI distributes stimulus cards for residents to spend at NMI businesses

The Northern Mariana Island has begun mailing out 28,000 debit cards to 2020 tax filers, regardless of income, with most filers likely to receive them the week of Aug. 16. Each tax filer’s card will be worth $500, with an additional $500 added for each dependent. Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said at an Aug. 13 news conference, “It’s really an open program.” The cards can be presented at a wide variety of locations – to include restaurants, grocery stores and to fly from one island to another. “Every legitimate business … has a merchant number,” Torres said.

David DLG. Atalig, secretary of the NMI Department of Finance said people could still file 2020 returns, and those without income could also file showing zero income to become eligible for the debit cards.

Atalig said the NMI is finalizing its plan for Child Tax Credits, which he said could be signed during the weekend of Aug. 14 and 15. No U.S. territory had yet received approval, he said. “Our implementation plan will be five equal payments for the year,” he said.

In additional news related to the economy, Torres talked about the revitalization of the Commonwealth Economic Development Authority, previously known as the Commonwealth Development Authority. CEDA is relaunching its Qualifying Certificate Program.

The Journal also received a column from Michael S. Sablan, which said, “The Investment Incentive Act of 2021 calls for the implementation of the North American Industry Classification System in identifying the targeted industry listing (e.g., accommodations and food services, information, construction, utilities, finance and insurance, agriculture).

“The new QC Program also contains critical provisions for the incentives we could offer to companies that are interested in investing or expanding their businesses,” Sablan wrote.

“This whole program is to provide additional resources and assistance for the CNMI,” Torres told the Journal. “We would like to have new industries here.” Critical to that Torres said is the support that can be provided to new industries.

Sablan is vice president of Triple J Enterprises Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. He has written weekly columns submitted to media updating the council’s progress since March 12. An archive of those can be found at


GVB board declines to provide additional $2 million for charter flight subsidies

The board of the Guam Visitors Bureau on Aug. 12 declined to provide an additional $2 million for incentives, and subsidies for 19 additional charter flights set to come in from now until the end of the year from Taiwan.  While the board got as far as a motion to provide funding, Samuel V. Shinohara, managing director of United – who joined the meeting part way through and voiced opposition – said, “That’s $50,000 per charter.” In addition, he said, “GVB is suffering the bulk of the risk – if not all of it.”

GVB President Carl T.C. Gutierrez and Vice President Gerald S.A. Perez asked for more funding at the meeting to be able to react quickly, they said. Gutierrez said GVB was aiming to work with Lion Travel Services Co. Ltd., which is one of the biggest travel agencies in Taiwan, as well as negotiate with Taiwan-based airlines. 

Other issues the board discussed included competition with Palau for Taiwan visitors, as the Palau-Taiwan tourism bubble is set to resume; the return of attractions, the latest of which was the Mangilao night market’s re-opening on Aug. 12; and the success of the Tumon trolley in providing security and transport for visitors. mbj