SAIPAN — As the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands aims to expand its Tourism Resumption Investment Plan, or TRIP, program with South Korea, two new machines have been acquired to more efficiently test travelers for the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Marianas Visitors Authority was recently notified by the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and the CNMI COVID-19 Task Force that two new "amplifiers," needed in order to test for the virus, have been acquired.

In a recent MVA special board meeting, board member Ivan Quichocho, who also serves as chairman of the TRIP-South Korea committee, said the ability to process polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests to identify people who have the virus is key to TRIP's expansion.

He said there are only so many PCR tests the CNMI can process, which may become more of a struggle as more tourists arrive throughout the remainder of the year. But with the addition of two new machines, the CNMI can now increase its testing capacity.

"We've had a meeting with (the) task force and CHCC," Quichocho said. 

"They have purchased two new amplifiers that are on island and going through commissioning," Quichocho added. "Basically, they just need to be installed. This should pick up our capacity by another 97 tests that we could run within a four-hour period. That improves our capacity to be able to handle more arrivals. If we continue this current program of PCR testing well through 2022, we'll have quicker results (and a) quicker turnaround."

He said MVA expects to receive more updates on the installation of these two new machines.

This installation may allow MVA to expand the program and allow additional bookings and flights to the CNMI, Quichocho said.

Nearly 8,000 TRIP participants are booked through the remainder of the year.

The TRIP program was launched in July through a travel bubble agreement with South Korea.