Public Confused Over SOE Orders Prohibiting Road Travel after 2pm

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Peak hour traffic after closure of business hours at 2pm. Photos: Ganasavea Manuia Tafeaga, SGN.

Wednesday 6 April 2022, Apia Samoa. Samoa’s State of Emergency Order No 75 has not been well thought through, as voiced by the public who cannot work out how to legally return home after knocking off work at 2pm.

Public Notice published on Government Facebook page, the formal information channel for updates on Samoa’s covid response.

As is stands, SOE 75 allows for all businesses to open from 6am to 2pm with a few exceptions for night clubs, bars and gyms. The Public Service Commission have also confirmed opening hours for all government services including State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) from 9am to 2pm. The Ministry of Justice also announced a re-opening of the Courts from 9am to 2pm as did many other services permitted to open under current orders.

However, just as 2pm drew near on the first day of the shift back to Level 2, the Government media pages published a stern warning, that no vehicles are to be on the road after 2pm.

There are two places in the current SOE Order number 75 which mentions movements on the road for vehicles.

Under Section 3 headed “Public gatherings”, sub-section 6 states, For the purposes of this Order, only authorized personnel and authorized vehicles are permitted on the road while this Order is in force. 

Under Section 5(2) headed “Domestic Travel – Other Vehicles”, sub-section (c) states Private vehicles are permitted on the road and must comply with conditions in Order 5(1)(d) to (g). Sections d to g are requirements to show a vaccination card, observe social distancing, wear a face mask, and ensure no children are traveling unless they’re on route to be vaccinated.

Several business owners were unaware that Samoa would be on a 2pm curfew under Level 2 and have voiced concerns that the closure of roads as well as supermarkets at the same time as working hours, does not make sense. “It will definitely mean employees have to leave work early in order to make it home before the 2pm road curfew, or even earlier if they need to pick up groceries on the way”.

“This has not been well thought through at all, how are people expected to get home after opening hours? Everyone knows that after work is peak hour traffic.”

Bus owners and taxi drivers have voiced their concern as to the limitations on their services, also listed as permitted between 6am to 2pm.

“Our service is to take the public to and from the workplace. If someone starts at 6am, there is no legal way for taxis or buses to get them there by 6. And after work is the busiest time for us, and yet, we can’t provide that service after 2pm. It doesn’t make any sense..”

Samoa Police Service, who are tasked with enforcing State of Emergency Orders say they are applying a lenient approach this afternoon, to allow the public to return home from workplaces and businesses who are permitted to open and offer services until 2pm.

In announcing Samoa’s shift to Alert Level 2, Prime Minister Hon Fiame Naomi Mataafa stated that some amendments had been made to the State of Emergency (SOE) orders for Alert Level 2, “to help reduce congestion in public places, continue to drive vaccination and testing programmes and to assist in slowing down new infections..

“At the same time Level 2 provides space for government ministries and corporations, private sector and civil society to operate businesses and to deliver services for the country”, said the Prime Minister in a public address on Monday night.

Questions for clarification have been sent to the NEOC.

Peak hour traffic after closure of business hours at 2pm. Photos: Ganasavea Manuia Tafeaga, SGN.