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After nearly a year of shutting down to flights due to the pandemic, American Samoa is beginning to repatriate its residents on flights back home under a strict quarantine protocol. NewsHour Weekend’s Laura Fong spoke to one of the hundreds of formerly stranded residents, Fiti Aina. He was separated from his wife and six kids for eight months, but was finally able to get on the second repatriation flight last month.
After nearly a year of the border being shut down to flights due to the pandemic, American Samoa is beginning to repatriate its residents on flights back home under a strict quarantine protocol.
The U.S. territory has had only a small handful or virtually no cases of COVID-19, and no spread in the community.
Newshour Weekend's Laura Fong spoke to one of the hundreds of formerly stranded residents, who was separated from his wife and six kids for eight months, and was able to get on the second repatriation flight in March.
It was a reunion eight months in the making. Just two weeks ago, Fiti Aina finally returned to his home in American Samoa on March 22 after being separated from his wife Danielle and six kids.
It was a very exciting moment to see even the kids look at the looks on their faces were priceless.
It was a sacrifice that I had to make.
In July, Aina made the difficult decision to leave the island to get emergency gallbladder surgery in Hawaii. Last November when we first interviewed him, Aina was waiting for word on when he could return home.
He is one of at least 1,800 residents of the U.S. territory who has registered to get on a repatriation flight. On February 1st, the first repatriation flight arrived in American Samoa with 159 residents. That didn't include Fiti Aina. But in March, Aina was one of the 188 residents on the second flight. Aina had a 10-day quarantine in Honolulu, and took multiple COVID tests before his flight.
Pleasure to have all of you today.
He had another 12 days of quarantine when he landed in American Samoa before he could be reunited with family.
When I was in quarantine I had nothing in mind. The only thing that was on my mind was my wife and my kids. Thank God I'm home to see my kids again and my wife.
Holding his youngest daughter, Jolizabeth, who turned a year old last year, Aina wondered if she would recognize him.
She was looking at me like, oh, who's this? I'm like, no, please, don't go away from me. Now I have to hold you. It's been a long time. Like I left the island, I was carrying you, but now I came back to you and now you're walking and running.
Jola. Say hi!
Aina says three-year-old Jola keeps asking him the same question.
She always asks that question every time. Daddy, are you going to go again? No, I'm not going anywhere. It's very good to be home.
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Laura Fong shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of topics, including U.S. politics, education, the arts and urban transit. She also covers breaking news for the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts. Before joining NewsHour Weekend, Laura worked on the first three seasons of the CNN documentary series "Inside Man" with Morgan Spurlock. Through Teach for America, Laura taught first grade for two years in Houston. She has a B.A. in electronic media from the University of Oregon.
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