BY BARNABAS MANEBONA
CABINET has approved a recommendation by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Oversight Committee to allow two repatriation flights by Solomon Airlines this month November.
The first flight according to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in his ‘Nationwide’ address yesterday will be on November 19 to Kiribati and Nadi to pick up stranded citizens from both countries.
Mr Sogavare said this flight comes at the back of the normal Airline’s cargo run on November 18 which will also bring a small number of passengers that have already been approved and have complied with the country’s pre-departure requirements.
“The second flight will be from Manila to Honiara on November 24 to repatriate 144 students from the Philippines. Cabinet has been assured by the Oversight Committee that our students waiting in Manila are in hotel quarantine which should reduce the COVID-19 risk status,” said Sogavare.
“In addition, three citizens, three dependents of a Solomon Islands citizen and 10 engineers for the 2023 Pacific Games will arrive tomorrow [today], Tuesday 17th November, from Indonesia on a Chartered Garuda Airlines aircraft that is flying to Honiara to repatriate Indonesian citizens from Honiara. All 16 passengers coming from Indonesia have undergone strict pre-departure clearance procedures to minimise the risk of covid-19 infection.
“Cabinet has also approved up to seven additional flights during the period late November 2020 through to mid-January 2021 for repatriation of our citizens including graduating students from Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
“The Oversight Committee will determine the scheduling of the flights, depending on the status of covid-19 in the country and quarantine beds available.
“Cabinet has instructed the Oversight Committee to ensure every effort is taken to prevent or minimise the entry of further cases of covid-19 into the country.”
Solomon Airlines also last week Friday confirmed that subject to regulatory approval, they will operate a series of further repatriation flights later this month to bring more stranded Solomon Islands citizens home. This is also to enable foreign nationals to depart Solomon Islands to Australia and other onward international destinations.
It is understood from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury (MoFT) Permanent Secretary (PS) McKinnie Dentana during this week Sunday’s Covid-19 ‘Talk-Back’ show when talking on government finance that repatriations continuing mean government will inquire extra cost of around $60M.
This includes the cost of keeping students that are not able to return from institutions in the region especially for accommodation and their allowances.