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Mercy flights planned for Solomons students in Manila

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The Solomon Islands said they would repatriate hundreds of stranded students to the Philippines despite fears that their return would bring them to the Pacific nation’s rare coronavirus status.

More than 400 students have stalled, with many complaining of difficult conditions since the island nation closed its borders in March.

Their return has become a headache for officials in one of the few Covid-free countries in the world, while the Philippines has recorded more than 260,000 cases.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said all students – including 12 who tested positive for the virus – would be repatriated and that officials were working with the Red Cross.

“We look forward to seeing our students at home soon and rest assured, the Solomon Islands are still without Covid-19,” he said in a national televised speech Wednesday.

Flights from Manila to Honiara are scheduled for September 27th and 29th. A third on October 24th will bring in students who have tested positive after recovering and quarantining.

Students in Manila blamed positive tests on the government’s failure to bring them home.

“Our worst fears are now understood,” said an engineering student, who asked not to be named, blaming the infections on crowded conditions.

Sogavare said the delays were caused by blockades in the Philippines and documents, including lost passports and expired visas.

Philippine Red Cross President and CEO Richard J. Gordon told AFP that his organization was providing welfare services to 12 students who were positive.

“These include psychosocial support for students and their dependents, the provision of quarantine kits consisting of masks, vitamins and disinfectant equipment and supplies, and the provision of food packages,” Gordon said.

All students will need to be tested negative for the virus at least three times before being allowed to travel to Solomons.

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