Vaccinations crucial to national revival

The extent to which the closure of our national borders has ruined Samoa’s economy was made painfully clear this week. 

The Samoa Tourism Authority Chief Executive Officer, Fa’amatuainu Lenata’i Tuifua, revealed that a majority of the country’s hotels were no longer operational. 

“So far given the stats that we have out of 144 total hotel operations since July this year 48 are still operational, 52 have been closed, 26 are being used for the quarantine,” he said in an interview.

The statistic and the broken businesses and livelihoods it represents are stupefying. 

We are yet to have a clear picture on what damage this has done to our broader economy and society. 

Estimates by the ANZ bank’s research division found that some 4500 jobs had been lost as a result of the national economic downturn in 2020 alone. 

Those statistics are in line with estimates provided by Fa’amatuainu that more than 2700 jobs in the industry had been destroyed since the pandemic’s onset. 

The ripple effects of these job losses, of course, extend to other parts of the economy such as transportation businesses, rental services and restaurants.

We have yet to hear about the full extent of these losses across the country. But it is almost certainly greater than these estimates suggest.

The ruin of the economy measured last year - a startling figure that represents nearly 20 per cent of all jobs - has doubtlessly continued and become even greater than those startling statistics suggest. 

Recent estimates by the Samoa Bureau of Statistics suggest we have entered the seventh consecutive quarter of contraction of the formal employment sector. 

These numbers have also struck at the aspect of our economy that provided the most promise for future growth and development. 

Fa’amatuainu revealed that 2019 was the first year in which tourism had contributed more than half a billion tala to the economy - a figure that represented nearly one-fifth of our total economy that year. 

It was also one of the nation’s most promising and fastest growing industries with growth rates in tourist spending nudging 20 per cent year-on-year. 

We now have a huge glut of Samoans who have lost their main source of family support and means of putting food on the table but also face the accompanying challenges of having their occupations or professions simply put on hold, robbing them of a sense of direction and purpose.

As it stands our rates of total vaccination are simply too far off to allow us to open our borders to an international market bursting with demand for tourism.

More than 99,000 Samoans - or more than 80 per cent of the eligible population - have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

But our economic potential is being seriously weighed down by a lack of follow through. Only slightly more than 50,000 people have received their second dose of the vaccine. 

This week we have seen Canada open its borders to fully vaccinated foreign travellers who have cleared a virus test shortly before arrival.

It is an imperfect system; a calculated risk. 

People who have been vaccinated can still carry and transmit the virus as new mutations emerge. 

But the chances are extremely low. A random sample of fully vaccinated travellers conducted by the Canadian Government found that only 0.19 per cent registered positive for COVID-19. 

Full vaccination is also crucial to prevent our health system from being overwhelmed; there is an astonishing 30 fold decrease in risk of being admitted to hospital if they catch the disease.

Canada has been emboldened to adopt this imperfect policy, this calculated risk, by its relatively high rates of vaccination - especially where we are most lacking, in following up those who have not received their second dose. 

According to recent statistics 76 per cent of Canadians have received their first dose of the vaccine and 70 per cent have been fully vaccinated. (The vaccination campaign is, of course, ongoing.)

If we are to have a chance of replicating their success we must match its successful follow through on administering second doses of the vaccination.

All of which makes this week’s two-day national vaccine shutdown on Thursday and Friday crucially important for unvaccinated Samoans to receive their required second dose. 

The last date for the country’s residents to receive their required second dose is Friday, with the expiry date for the vaccine donations generously provided by our development partners fast approaching. 

It would be an outrageous shame to repay the generosity of nations such as Australia, which has supplied 50,000 of its own locally manufactured vaccines to give us the chance to safely navigate our way through the COVID-19 crisis wasted; to be literally thrown away.

We know that we can achieve these targets as we have done so before and recently with a similar lockdown following the 2019 measles crisis, resulting in 94 per cent of the eligible population receiving their required vaccinations.

It is imperative that we repeat this feat again - both our lives and livelihoods are depending upon it. 

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