Australians may be allowed to vacation on picturesque Fijian beaches while the Pacific islands insist on participating in a proposed international travel bubble with New Zealand.
Tourism is the largest industry in the region, and although it has been completely closed since the beginning of COVID-19, locals look forward to reopening.
The Fiji government said it hopes that tourists from Australia and New Zealand will “come back for vacation as soon as possible.”
Australia and New Zealand have provided an opportunity to create a trans-Tasman bubble in which people can travel freely between the two countries.
Australians may be allowed to vacation on picturesque Fiji beaches (pictured) while Pacific islands insist on participating in the country’s international travel bubble with New Zealand
Australia and New Zealand are currently discussing a trans-Tasman bubble where people can travel exclusively between countries (people at Sydney airport)
The government of Fiji has formally requested to join the bubble, ABC News reported.
Discussions are believed to be ongoing between Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, but there is still no official timeframe for the travel bubble proposal.
Federal Liberal MP and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of the Pacific Group, Dave Sharma, told the Lowy Institute that travel to Fiji could resume this year.
“I would think we should have some parameters that would allow us to start things like this and possibly even earlier,” said Sharma.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison hopes that as soon as travel packages with New Zealand are organized, he will look to the “wider Pacific family.”
Both Australia and New Zealand will be cautious about traveling to the Pacific islands, as they don’t want to spread the corona virus beyond their home country.
Fiji’s Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said the decisions take time.
“We have clearly raised our hands, we want to see how we can put ourselves in a better position,” he said.
Australian High Commissioner for Fiji, John Feakes, said the first travel arrangements between Australia and New Zealand will be banned.
The Fijian government has formally requested to join the bubble (photo: Fijian women doing traditional dance)
Once the work is done to open the trans-Tasman bubble, it looks like Fiji is part of it.
“But our primary concern is to ensure that the health of New Zealanders, Australians and Fijians is protected,” said Feakes.
Medical, health, travel insurance, quarantine, and testing measures are all considerations governments will look into.
Detecting possible cases of the virus is also critical, and Fiji is starting a trial version of its own version of a coronavirus tracking app.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said that Fiji has responded positively to the way it has responded to the pandemic with only 18 cases of the virus, none in the past four weeks.
Although numbers are low, the test rate is much lower than in Australia and New Zealand.
Although COVID-19 cases are low in the Pacific islands, there is a push to increase testing to ensure that cases have not fallen through the cracks.
Fiji (pictured) is recognized as a leader among the Pacific Island countries for its interests, thriving tourism and experience with COVID-19
Fiji was most vocal about participating in the travel bubble, but Vanuatu has also expressed interest.
Vanuatu is also heavily dependent on tourism and is cautious about re-opening its borders, but confirmed that it has held talks with Australia.
Meanwhile, the Cook Islands are also keen to reopen borders with appropriate measures.
Not only will the travel bubble in the Pacific open up vacation opportunities for Australians, but it will also open up new trading opportunities.
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands forums, Dame Meg Taylor, confirmed that multiple countries have approached Australia and New Zealand to be included.
But she admitted it will take time, as the health of Pacific Islanders is the number one priority.
“We just don’t have strong health systems, health services and health infrastructure,” said Dame Meg.