No progress on Fiji bubble until COVID is controlled: Australia

Vaccinations at Nadi International Airport today. Photo: Fiji Government

Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific says Australia will want to see COVID cases under control in Fiji before any commitment can be made on a travel bubble.

When Fiji’s Minister for Economy delivered government’s 2021-2022 budget on Friday night, it painted an optimistic vision of a Fiji open to some tourists by Christmas.

“I want us to all look on to the horizon and imagine for a moment this year’s Christmas in Fiji,” Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said in his address to parliament. “By this year’s Christmas,  if we reach our vaccination targets coverage, you could be fully protected from the coronavirus thanks to widespread immunity through vaccines. Gatherings can take place, sports can be played and we can pray together in our houses of faith. Our borders could be reopened to some of our most important source markets for tourism, planes could be flying, careers could be restored.”

Minister Sayed-Khaiyum said discussions are underway to “establish mutual recognition of vaccine protocols with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Singapore and the United States of America.”

Speaking to Pacific journalists yesterday, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja says there have been significant discussions at officials level on opening travel bubbles.

“Obviously, with Fiji in particular, the biggest setback was the most recent outbreak, which you’re all aware of, and dealing with. And so, until that is under control, and we see those case numbers come down significantly, and we see the population, you know, significantly vaccinated, or at least the situation significantly under control, it’d be difficult to obviously see those progressing.”

He said Fiji’s high vaccination rates give some reason for hope.  “I think, I think we would look to take potentially baby steps like a ‘vacation in paradise’ model, before moving to a full bubble, and then, and then other arrangements beyond that.”

Meanwhile the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association has welcomed budget measures to boost vaccinations, support unemployed workers, incentivise new investment in tourism  and continue tax benefits for the sector.

“As Fiji prepares for borders to reopen later this year once the 80% adult population vaccination requirement is reached; businesses that have been closed for over 12 months, in hibernation or operating intermittently at a fraction of their size need to prudently manage what their reopening will look like. This includes staff access and retraining in new COVID-safe protocols, replenishing food and beverage stocks, renovating and refurbishing rooms that have been closed, replacing or fixing equipment and machinery, landscaping gardens and maintaining pools, buildings, seawalls, gardens, and transfer or activity vessels and vehicles in need of repair and compliance licensing,” FHTA Chief Executive, Fantasha Lockington says.