NMI may reopen to tourists on July 15

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres said on Tuesday that July 15 is the target date for reopening the islands to tourists.

During an online press conference aired on KKMP radio and hosted by Gary Sword, the governor said his administration is working with tour and airline partners from Japan and South Korea.

“Our goal is to hit July 15. If we make it, excellent. If we don’t, then it’s a moving target date, but the most important thing for everyone is to make sure that we have an understanding with our tourist partners on how to approach our tourism here,” Torres said.

Skymark Airlines of Japan has announced it will resume its flight service to Saipan at the end of July, “which is okay because it will give the community time to adjust to the ‘new norm’ when tourism activities resume.”

The governor said there are “a lot of factors that need to be addressed before we get there. It is not as simple as opening up.” 

The CNMI community, first of all, needs to feel safe before the islands can again welcome tourists, he added.

Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. president Alex Sablan, who is also a member of the governor’s Council of Economic Advisers, said they will continue to work with the governor’s Covid-19 Task Force.

“We want to be ready and prepared to receive tourists and get the economy going again,” he added.

The governor said, “I strongly believe that we’re moving in the right direction and also at the right pace.”

He noted that compared to other nations and territories, the CNMI has one of the strictest emergency rules.

“We continue to look at every angle. Lifting some of the restrictions is based on our success and progress as a community as we make sure that our [front liners] have proper personal protective equipment,” the governor said.

Everyone in the community has a stake in reopening the tourism industry while ensuring that everyone will remain safe, he added.

“We really need to…continue practicing social distancing as much as we can, and definitely continue wearing face masks.”

A good team

Joining Torres and Sablan in the online press conference were the governor’s authorized representative Patrick Guerrero, the governor’s Covid-19 Task Force chairman Warren Villagomez, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Special Assistant Gerald Deleon Guerrero and economic consultant Matthew Deleon Guerrero who, like Sablan and Sword, is a member of the governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.

“We have a very good team of business leaders, and obviously the Covid-19 task force, that provided some input on the idea of opening the CNMI gradually, and doing this safely,” Sablan said.

There have been careful deliberations on how to gradually reopen the Commonwealth economy, he added.

“The hope is that we get all of the mitigation ideas put on the table and implemented, and be ready for [July 15]. As the governor mentioned, this could be a moving target. We could move it forward; we could move it back. It is all going to be dependent on our capability to get things ramped up,” Sablan said.

As for the cost of the new CNMI approach to the tourism industry, “We are going to try to mitigate that cost,” he added.

They may apply for grants to help reduce the impact on small businesses, Sablan said.

Economic consultant Matthew Deleon Guerrero, for his part, said the current restrictions are “tied to the community going out and registering to get tested, so that CHCC and public health officials [can] have a good understanding of what the true numbers on the ground are as they relate to this disease.”

The more people get tested, he said, the more information the government will have.

He noted that the CNMI has the ability to do large-scale testing, “which is great, especially with the [Food and Drug Administration] approval of the test kits.”

CHCC CEO Muna said 10% of the CNMI population have so far availed themselves of the free Covid-19 test.

As of May 26, the CNMI had seven active Covid-19 cases, 13 recoveries, and two deaths.

Guam had 169 confirmed cases, 139 recoveries, and five deaths while the U.S. had 1.7 million confirmed cases, 353,000 recoveries, and 99,462 deaths.

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