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  • By Bea Cabrera

Commonwealth Ports Authority keeps borders open

Saipan-- Amid the outbreak scare of the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV in the CNMI, Gov. Ralph Torres effected Executive Order 2020-01 last Wednesday putting the CNMI in a state of significant emergency to establish response, quarantine, preventative and containment measures that concern the virus.

However, the EO does not have the power suspend, cancel or ban flights that come directly from China or from carriers that carry Chinese travelers from Guam, Hong Kong, Seoul and Incheon South Korea. This was reiterated by Commonwealth Port Authority board chair Kimberly King-Hinds during a special emergency meeting with the pubic and stakeholders on Thursday.

“There are a lot of questions and need for clarification as to what the scope of CPA authority is as well as the CNMI’s authority related to suspension and cancelling of flights to implement border security," she said. "It’s a general rule that our policy is to keep our borders open to flow of traffic into the Commonwealth."

King -Hinds said CPA does not have the authority to suspend flights or intervene in border matters.

"It is important to clarify that the governor himself, does not have the authority to suspend or bar flights from anywhere…This jurisdiction is lodged within the US Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection,” she added

Without order or directive from the two federal agencies, CPA cannot order actions that discriminate one airline from another.

To effect the intention of executive order 2020-01, CPA calls for cooperation and collaboration with all airlines and industry partners.

In a press release, CPA stated that to give effect to the Governor’s executive order, collaboration with the airline carriers to suspend travel and flights into the CNMI is on a voluntary basis. “The public health safety concern with the corona virus is a substantial concern for our community requiring immediate action to confer with our airlines in response to the Emergency Declaration by Gov. Torres. The process is intended to balance our responsibility in our ‘open skies’ for all airlines and travelers against the compelling interest of our Commonwealth to prevent the arrival of a communicable health threat in our islands.”

Currently, direct flights from China are suspended based on the Chinese government’s order addressed to tour operators to stop ticket sales. The affected airlines are Sichuan Airlines, China eastern Airlines and Beijing Capital airlines.

Meanwhile, airline carriers such as United, Hong Kong Express, T’Way, Jeju and Asiana Airlines that fly Chinese travelers to the CNMI through Guam, Hong Kong, Seoul and Incheon Republic of Korea continue to service flights.

United Airlines representative David Baker said that some US airlines already suspended flights that fly to and from China. “American and Delta Airlines have suspended their flights. As for United, we have only reduced flights,” he said.

King-Hinds extends appreciation to those airlines that have already taken pro-active measures in as far as voluntarily coming out and suspending flights until further notice. “At this point in time, we don’t know what the full the science behind the coronavirus, it is still developing. We don’t know the full extent as to how big this pandemic is going to get and the full health impacts are going to be . At this point, the plan is basically to prevent it,” she said.

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