Samoa not rushing to join Fiji's "Pacific pathway"

By Soli Wilson 26 June 2020, 1:00PM

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, has said there is no rush to become involved in a regional coronavirus transport zone dubbed Fiji’s “Bula bubble”.

The Fijian government initiative extends to travellers headed to and from Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tonga. 

Earlier in the week, Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, said it had plans to create a travel bubble with Australia and New Zealand.

Mr. Bainimarama said a "Pacific Pathways" arrangement may expand to other Pacific island nations such as Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

But during his weekly programme with TV3 on Wednesday, Tuilaepa said Samoa has no plans of joining the Fijian initiative. 

"With an arrangement like that, two governments discuss and negotiate, it is not one-sided and what we are focused on is protecting [Samoa]," he said.

"Remember that Fiji flies to many places; flying to Singapore where there are many cases of [COVID-19], they fly to Japan and China where the virus is at and also America."

Tuilaepa continued that there will be negotiations soon but it is yet to analyse whether or not it is safe for Samoa to open its borders to Fiji.

"Remember that Fiji has cases while we do not as well as Tonga so there is no need for us to rush, until we fully trust that our people will not be infected," he added.

"Note that Fiji is very persistent without barriers in attracting tourists, and we need to be careful."

Fiji has a total of 18 confirmed cases, of which it says 18 have recovered it making it virus-free. 

Currently, the only route Samoa has approved to open for limited repatriation flights is between Apia and Auckland.

Last Sunday, Mr. Bainimarama announced a plan for a “post-COVID society” to try and boost an international tourism industry which regional economies rely upon but which has ground almost to a halt.

Australia and New Zealand are currently in negotiations for a trans-Tasman bubble, which would allow for direct flights.

Some in the business community had been pushing for direct flights between Wellington and Canberra as soon as next month.

But a recent surge in coronavirus cases in New Zealand, which only earlier this month declared it was confident it had achieved an end to the transmission of coronavirus cases.

That surge in coronavirus cases and some controversy surrounding their handling by local authorities - now may throw that timeline into doubt.

On Thursday a further three new cases were declared by New Zealand bringing to 13 the number of active cases in the country. 

“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,” Mr. Bainimarama said.

"We’re working on our own bubble - a Bula Bubble - between Fiji, New Zealand and Australia."

The Fiji plan would have travellers plan to spend 14 days in Fiji government quarantine facilities and then be required to pass a COVID-19 test to enter the general population.

This would be at their own cost or that of their respective government.

All movement of the tourists would be contained within special "VIP lanes" [Vacation in Paradise], from the plane to Nadi Airport and then onto designated transport to their official accommodation, where they would remain throughout their stay.

The potential inclusion of Samoa into any successfully negotiated future trans-Tasman bubble would be subject to several caveats, New Zealand and Samoan officials have said.

By Soli Wilson 26 June 2020, 1:00PM

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