SAIPAN — The July 15 target date for the reopening of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to tourism remains a moving target date, an administration official said during a press briefing on KKMP radio Wednesday.
The governor's authorized representative, Patrick Guerrero, said, besides United Airlines, there are no airlines that have committed to flying to the CNMI.
He added that there are also no hotels that have committed to reopening just yet.
"Being that it is just less than a month away, I would assume that we are not ready for that date, and that it will keep moving further out," he said.
Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios said "there are a lot of things that we need to look at: Whether airlines are going to start coming in, what is the frequency (of the flights), the hotels (reopening). It certainly isn't a date that is set in stone."
He added, "If there's an outbreak, for example, (it's) guaranteed that we are not going to be opening up on that date. Obviously, we are all working toward that date, but we're working to see how we can open up our community. Our economy is really based on tourism."
Palacios said the airlines are a major component in reopening the local economy, adding that the administration's economic recovery team has been looking at all relevant factors.
"We are moving forward very cautiously. At the same time, we're planning ahead beyond just addressing the pandemic. We're looking at, for example, (Northern Marianas College), the (Public School System) and every other component of our government. Even businesses are looking at what needs to be done, and what can and cannot."
Palacios said, "At the end of the day, the No. 1 factor is to listen to the COVID-19 Task Force on what the possibilities are, and if it really is safe to completely open up in July."
'No one has taken a victory lap yet'
Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna said, "We're not trying to reach July 15 as a victory date. We're doing everything possible to continuously monitor the virus in the community, and we will be working closely. As the law says, we are the advisers to the governor, especially when there are infectious diseases."
She added, "No one has taken a victory lap yet. We're still working around the clock to try to make sure that the community is safe, and we will continue to do that."
Press secretary Kevin Bautista said the reopening will be public health-driven.
"One of the biggest things in terms of making sure that we find a date when we can actually reopen tourism is the establishment of a safe tourism corridor. Right now, we're starting with South Korea. The governor and the Council of Economic Advisors have been working closely with the South Korean government to establish a travel bubble between South Korea and the CNMI," he said.
"One of the biggest focuses is to make sure that we also ensure that when tourists arrive here that they, on their end, do all of the necessary precautionary measures to meet our standards here in the CNMI, both on a public health perspective, as well as for the long-term viability of the overall economy."
Bautista added, "We're not going to move at an impulsive manner. It's going to be very deliberative, and we're not going to try and set dates artificially just because it's convenient for us."