Samoa considers travel bubble with N.Z. and Pago

Samoa has shown interest in a “travel bubble” involving New Zealand and American Samoa.

This was confirmed by the Ministry of Finance’s Chief Executive Officer, Leasiosiofa'asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, during an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“Yes we’re interested and our officials are exploring options with the New Zealand Government on how we can proceed with that travel bubble,” he said.

Leasiosiofa'asisina added that Samoa is also reaching out to American Samoa because both countries are COVID-19 free.

“Nothing concrete yet but that’s the plan,” he said.

Samoa being part of a travel bubble was also supported by the Samoa Hotels Association President, Tupai Saleimoa Vaai.

Tupai said that Samoa is coronavirus free, while New Zealand and Australia have done well to contain it but there is a huge work that needs to be done to ensure that Samoa remains COVID-19 free.

“We would love to be included in that bubble because for the industry, it is not only a great selling point for us to be COVID-19 free but it will help with recovery especially with the dependency on tourism that we have and the contribution that it has into the economy.”

He added that it is quite essential to get the industry recover rather sooner than later.

“But it also depends on how secure and comfortable our Government to allow it.”

However, Tupai added that the tourism industry’s stance is to support the closure of the borders. 

"And we are not pushing to open up the borders because the safety of our country is more important.” 

The idea of a travel bubble was initiated by the Government of New Zealand and Australia.

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and Australian counterpart Scott Morrison have previously highlighted the trans-Tasman bubble concept but did not state a date on when travel might begin. 

So far, the two nations continue to negotiate a potential Pacific-wide travel network with Australia and New Zealand.

The Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand who is also the Foreign Affairs Minister, Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters told Australia’s Nine News that the "roadblock of federalism" was getting in the way of plans to create a trans-Tasman 'travel bubble' between the two countries.

“Two days before we went into the lockdown that is 25th of March 2020 we began a conversation with [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] (D.F.A.T.) Australia on this question of the lockdown ending and the Pacific bubble,” he told Nine News earlier this week.

Vaovasamanaia added that before the two countries went into lockdown, “we were talking about getting out of it and having a bubble of success between both countries."

"But we've run into the roadblock of federalism, so to speak," he said.

After more than a fortnight without any new cases of the virus being recorded, New Zealand lifted all domestic restrictions on social distancing and mass gatherings.

In an interview with ABC News, Australia’s Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham agreed with New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister that Australia should not wait for the slowest state to open up travel with New Zealand.

“Once our systems are ready, our Border Force and our airports and New Zealand are equally ready, then I hope that we can see that sort of travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand open up as quickly as possible,” he told ABC News on June 10.

He added that the circumstance now with New Zealand, having eliminated all cases of COVID-19 in their country, has lifted restrictions entirely when it comes to weddings, funerals, public gatherings, retail, hospitality, and similarly we have states and jurisdictions in Australia who have eliminated all cases of COVID- 19. 

“And I hope that we can see them move quickly to similar opening up of their domestic economies, and also opening up to New Zealand as well as to the other states of Australia who have had such success now, right across the board, in suppressing the spread of COVID.

“It may well be that some states maintain certain quarantine provisions and then it will presumably be a case that essentially travelers themselves, airlines themselves, market forces, if you like, will determine which capital cities' airlines put services on to.

“The Government is not going to necessarily get into the business of scheduling the airlines.”

Mr. Birmingham added that, “what we want to do is see a circumstance where it is recognised that New Zealand has had phenomenal success in suppressing the spread of COVID.”

“Australia has had phenomenal success in suppressing the spread of COVID, and that we create a positive travel arrangement between our two countries to enable people to get back to business.

“This is not just about people being able to take holidays, as much as, as the Tourism Minister, I'm keen to welcome New Zealanders to Australia for a holiday, it's also about the flow of business and conference travel and all of those other things that are very important to getting our economy functioning again.”

A media spokesman for Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Wade Laube said establishing travel between Australia and New Zealand remained a primary priority before heading to the Pacific Islands.

He added that they are keen to do it, but it’s going to be a challenge because the key principle is to ensure the health and safety of people across the Pacific.

“If we get this wrong there is a risk of accidentally exposing Pacific people to coronavirus from Australia, potentially.”

During a previous daily press conference with the New Zealand Prime Minister, she told reporters that it’s a conversation she would need to have directly with Pacific Island leaders. 

“At the moment we are focused on Australia, but it is fair to say that there would be obviously particular advantages for our Pacific Island neighbours,” she said. 

“But that’s a conversation we’d need to have directly with them; there is huge risk if COVID finds its way into Pacific island nations that have been untouched by COVID. So I would want us to act cautiously, and in unison with the leaders of those countries."

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