Multisectoral collaboration with global and regional development partners is imperative in the negotiations currently undertaken by the Fijian Government to accelerate the recovery of Fiji’s tourism industry and economy.
This message was conveyed by the Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister, Immigration and Sugar Industry and Acting Permanent Secretary Foreign Affairs, Mr Yogesh Karan, while leading the Fijian delegation at a virtual roundtable meeting organised by the United Nations and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The high level meeting held in Suva yesterday was attended by the senior officials from UN entities such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Maritime Organization, the World Health Organisation, the International Organisation for Migration, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Tourism Organisation and the World Trade Organisation among others along with related global organisations such as the International Air Transport Association and regional entities such as the South Pacific Tourism Organisation and the Pacific Community.
It provided an opportunity for the governments of Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu to discuss multisectoral considerations for safely reopening points of entry and the types of institutional support available from the UN and ADB and other development partners to Pacific island countries. This was the second in a series of similar Roundtables planned by the UN and ADB across the region.
While providing Fiji’s intervention, PS Karan spoke on negotiations undertaken by the Fijian Government to revive the tourism sector.
“The “Bula Bubble,” which we just established, allows us to begin receiving visitors from Australia and New Zealand into Fiji. And we have established “Blue Lanes” to allow yachts and pleasure craft to enter Fijian waters. In fact, the first few yachts have already arrived in Fiji, with dozens more on the way.
“We are consulting closely with the governments of New Zealand and Australia to resume passenger air travel. We believe we will be able to begin admitting visitors from New Zealand very soon. We are concerned about the recent resurgence of the pandemic in Australia, however we are confident that the Australian federal government and the Australian state governments will take the necessary steps to contain it once again. The recent candid statements by the premier of the state of Victoria, Mr. Daniel Andrews, give us great hope.
“Through our Blue Lanes, initiative, passengers arriving by sea can quarantine for 14 days at sea, as long as they can show that they tested negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of their departure. Passengers whose journey is less than 14 days can get credit for their time at sea and finish their quarantine in Fiji.
“All visitors to Fiji are required to download the careFIJI mobile application to enter the country. This is a contact-tracing application that uses the same code that Singapore and Australia have used, so it will allow us to integrate cross-border contract tracing with other countries using that code, if necessary,” PS Karan said.
He said that Fiji will extend the “COVID-Contained” designation to other countries once it has determined that it is medically sound to do so.
“All of these plans call for close consultation and cooperation among the governments in this region if we are to reopen in a safe and steady way. I say safe and steady because it is imperative that we maintain momentum toward opening,” PS Karan elaborated.
UN Resident Coordinator in the Pacific, Mr Sanaka Samarasinha said that Small Island Developing States, that depend largely on tourism for their economies, have been hit hard by the global slowdown as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.
“The UN has, from the beginning of this crisis, advocated for the safe, responsible and timely reopening of national entry points, on which many small businesses and jobs depend. While the decision of when, how and with whom to open borders is a sovereign decision, safety, vigilance, responsibility and international cooperation are critical as the world slowly opens up again.”
Regional Director of ADB’s Pacific Subregional Office, Mr. Masayuki Tachiiri emphasised the importance of collective action to support health systems and economies in the Pacific.
“ADB’s latest assessments suggest the effects of lockdowns and travel bans have been particularly severe on the region’s tourism-dependent economies, with some facing double-digit declines in gross domestic product in 2020,” he said.
Important discussions featured at the UN-ADB regional meeting also focused on multisectoral considerations and assistance available for safely reopening national entry points targeting pre- border, at border, and post-border openings for both air and sea transport.
With relation to support from the international community, this includes initiatives such as the training of customs, immigration, police, and health officials and the distribution of personal protective equipment for use at airports and seaports.
The establishment of clear protocols and the importance of ensuring that other actors such as airlines, seafarers associations and tour operators are included in preparing plans for reopening borders was also emphasised.