The CNMI is expected to partially reopen tourism and welcome visitors from South Korea by January 2021, Gov. Ralph Torres announced Thursday.
“We continue to work on reopening our tourism industry through a travel bubble agreement with our source markets such as South Korea and Japan. But we remain cautious to ensure any resumption puts the health and safety of our people first,” Torres told the Rotary Club of Guam during a Zoom meeting.
Despite its close proximity to Guam — the region’s hot zone— the CNMI has managed to keep the Covid-19 pandemic under control. As of Dec. 10, the CNMI had 113 positive cases, most of which were travel-related. The commonwealth has not reported any community transmission since July, prompting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to label the CNMI a low-risk destination.
Torres said the partial resumption of tourism was preceded by “months of careful consideration, planning and needed caution from the Marianas Visitors Authority, the Covid 19 Task Force, and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.”
Tourism is the backbone of the CNMI's economy.
Torres said the partnership between public health officials and private sector will continue to keep the CNMI community safe as they plan for economic recovery.
“This can be done, but it must be done through thoughtful and deliberate decisions and cooperation with all stakeholders – our health care officials, first responders, and our tourism industry leaders working together to keep our people safe,” Torres said.
“This will be a ‘new normal’ for our industry, one that will change the way we operate with new requirements aimed at keeping our residents safe as we bring back jobs, and a level of normalcy that has been disrupted in these trying months,” he added.
While preparing for the vaccine distribution, Torres said the CNMI government has already actively engaged private clinics and pharmacies on messaging and encouraging people to take the vaccine. The CNMI has secured 10 cold storage units to hold the vaccine.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration earlier predicted the CNMI would have 6,000 to 8,000 Covid 19 cases by June if it didn’t put any mitigation measures in place. Since January, the CNMI has been proactive in its response against the pandemic.
“Here in the CNMI, our mindset was this: ‘One case in the CNMI is one case too many,’” Torres said. “We are a community that is very vulnerable to COVID-19, and if we weren’t proactive, our already fragile island healthcare system would have been overwhelmed. So that’s what we did. We began work in January, monitoring our tourism coming in from China, where the disease first started.”
Torres said his administration's goal "was to be proactive, listen to the science and the health experts, and communicate transparently with our people."
"The funds we have spent on our COVID-19 response—these are pennies to the dollars that translate to all the lives we have saved on our island community," he added.