American Samoa repatriation flights begin
On February 1, 2021, the first repatriation flight took off from Hawaiʻi, returning 150 people home to American Samoa after 11 months away. This is cause for an emotional homecoming that will reunite families that were forced apart during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. To avoid any cases in American Samoa, the territory closed its borders last March and has slowly begun opening them as it is deemed safe to do so by their public health officials.
In keeping with American Samoa’s stringent guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, these flights are preceded by a two-week quarantine at a hotel in Waikiki. This is to ensure that the territory remains one of the few places in the world relatively untouched by the ongoing pandemic.
There are an estimated 1,200 residents of American Samoa stranded both in Hawaiʻi and on the American mainland. Thus, it will take some time to return all of these people home, with flights scheduled from now until May. Adding a further complication is that these repatriation flights only depart from Honolulu. The territorial government is deciding who gets to return first, mainly based on their work situation and health conditions. The remaining returnees will be repatriated on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Following their return to American Samoa, the travelers will again quarantine at a hotel for 14 days, before finally being allowed to return home and see their families for the first time in nearly a year. Despite the growing excitement surrounding these flights, the American Samoan government office in Hawaii is calling for continued patience as the two governments coordinate to make these flights happen.
The second repatriation flight took off on March 10. Following their return from Hawaii, the residents will be transported to a hotel where they will quarantine, get tested, and at the conclusion of their stay, receive the first dose of the Coronavirus vaccine. The continuation of this process will ensure that the territory remains COVID-free while allowing everyone to return home safely.