Fiji first COVID-free Pacific Island to open up

Fiji, COVID-19, coronavirus

The major Pacific Islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu are free of coronavirus and Fiji has tentatively decided to open its borders.

Fiji is the first country to open its borders as it is the only Pacific Island nation to have a World Health Organization-certified testing laboratory. Fiji had 18 cases of COVID-19 but all people recovered and there have been no new cases for over two months.

In a significant step, the island country is creating safe “blue lanes” for yacht and pleasure craft owners who are eager to sail to its beautiful tropical islands.

“This is especially true now, with New Zealand currently in the winter season. As those in our hospitality sector know, these ships – particularly super yachts – produce immense economic value for Fiji,” said Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, in announcing “Phase 2” of the country’s COVID-Safe Economic Recovery on Sunday.

“Being alone at sea is a verifiable, self-contained quarantine. That means anyone coming by pleasure craft to Fiji, so long as they haven’t interacted with others, are very low-risk, but their economic impact is very high reward.

“That’s why Fiji will also be establishing safe ‘blue lanes’, open to those yachts and pleasure craft sailing to Fiji. But the requirements are strict.”

Fiji, Pacific Island, Voreqe Bainimarama
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama with (from left) Norway PM Erna Solberg, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, Iceland PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Costa Rica’s Vice Minister for Foreign Trade Duayner Saver Chaverri.

Bainimarama said any boat coming to the archipelago of more than 300 islands will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“To start, the only port of entry will be Port Denarau Marina. If this pilot project is successful, we will consider extending blue lanes to other ports and marinas,” he said.

“Those eligible to sail to Fiji fall under two categories, both of which will require them to be tested in another country before departing.

“If their journey to Fiji will take 14 days or longer uninterrupted at sea, once they dock in Fiji and show proof of a negative test result, everyone on board will be screened by the Ministry of Health for symptoms. If they’re deemed to be healthy, their yacht will be allowed to freely visit other ports throughout Fiji.

“Alternatively, those with a journey at sea shorter than 14 days will be required to make up the difference in quarantine once they dock in Fiji at their own cost. So, say they spend eight days alone at sea –– they will then be required to pay for six days of quarantine in Fiji, after which they can be cleared by a negative test result, also at their own cost.”

Tourism is the country’s largest industry, earning over F$500 million in foreign exchange and employing around 40,000 people. Bainimarama also announced “Pacific Pathways”, to rekindle contact with Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tonga.

“The Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Tourism, Fiji Airways and our medical experts are now liaising with governments to allow travellers from Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tonga to fly into Fiji,” he said.

“Upon arrival, they must spend 14 days in Fijian government quarantine facilities and then pass a COVID-19 test to enter society, both at their own cost or the cost of their respective government. As our risk assessments evolve, we may expand this arrangement to Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.”

Bainimarama also said it was in talks to allow tourists from Australia and New Zealand to fly to the islands. However, Australia has not opened all its internal borders between states and territories and both New Zealand and Australia are still recording new cases of COVID-19.

“While Australia and New Zealand work out their Trans-Tasman bubble, Fiji’s equal – or arguably, greater success against the virus puts us in a position to take the lead in the Pacific. We’re working on our own bubble – a ‘Bula Bubble’, between Fiji, New Zealand and Australia,” he said.

“Working with Fiji Airways and Tourism Fiji, we’ll be welcoming Aussies and Kiwis to holiday in Fiji in a manner that is carefully controlled and safely insulated. Everywhere they go will be wholly dedicated to others who match the same criteria, safely guided by what we’re calling ‘VIP lanes’ – allowing them to Vacation In Paradise.”

Bainimarama said to come to Fiji, Australian and New Zealand tourists could do one of the following:

Option One: Intending travellers must present a certificate from a recognised medical institution certifying their 14 days of quarantine in their home country, along with proof of a negative COVID test result within 48 hours of their departure for Fiji, at which point they can immediately start their Bula Bubble holiday within confined VIP lanes.

Option Two: Upon arrival, travellers can complete 14 days of quarantine at their own cost in a Fijian Government-designated quarantine centre or a hotel of their choosing, after which a negative COVID test can clear them to start their Bula Bubble vacation.

“This Bula Bubble will allow Aussies and Kiwis to once again enjoy the best of Fiji, while remaining separate from any other travellers and the general public,” he said.

“To be clear, any tourist who comes to Fiji on these terms still won’t be able to move freely throughout the country. All of their movement will be contained within the VIP lanes, starting on the airplane, then from the Nadi Airport onto designated transport to their designated resort or hotel, where they’ll remain throughout their stay.

“We’re currently identifying geographically-isolated resorts that are the best fit for the ‘Bula Bubble’.”

WHO has reported the largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 183,000 new cases detected in the past 24 hours.

The United Nations agency said Brazil suffered the most with 54,771 new cases of COVID-19, with US next at 36,617 while India had more than 15,400 cases.

The high incidence of new cases may be attributable to increased testing, together with broader infection.

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