Opposition leader warns against the travel bubble

Opposition Leader Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi has warned the Fiame Administration “not to rush into dismantling what has been a successful plan to combat and stop the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

In a statement issued by the Human Rights Protection Party leader, Tuilaepa expressed concerns at the move by his successor, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and her Cabinet to consider opening up a travel bubble with New Zealand.

“The recent travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia has had to be cancelled because of increased infections and particularly the discovery of the Delta variant which is causing real problems for our neighbours Fiji,” he said.

“We cannot risk our people’s lives for the sake of making a profit for some business people”.

Tuilaepa said there is also no need to rush into opening the borders with American Samoa who plans to restart commercial flights from COVID-19 infected Hawai’i next month.

Last Friday the new Government ushered in sweeping changes to state of emergency restrictions on Sundays, including restoring the usual operating hours for inter-island ferry trips and relaxing trading restrictions. 

Retail operations and gas stations can now open from 12pm while Sunday markets can operate from 4am to 9am. A ban on fundraising at night clubs has been lifted but 11pm closing hours will continue to be enforced. 

The changes were highlighted in a Cabinet Directive (21) 23 obtained by the Samoa Observer.

The directive was passed by the new Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Government, following a Cabinet meeting last Friday.

The former Government had imposed restrictions on Sunday ferries between Savaii and Upolu, but that has changed. 

Under the leadership of the new Prime Minister, the Government has allowed swimming on Sundays at beaches and waterfalls from 12pm. 

And street vendors are allowed to sell their merchandise and produce but the exercise is restricted to children aged 16 and above.

The document also revealed discussions with the American Samoa government to consider weekly ferries and flights on the Samoa Airways and Talofa Airways.  

“Also included in the talks is [to] allow permits for travel between Samoa and American Samoa [through flights and boats],” the document states. 

The Cabinet Directive also referred to “talks” with the government of New Zealand to implement a travel bubble while stating that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will work on this initiative. 

Tuilaepa pointed out that in the 17 months since the S.O.E. was put in place, Samoa continues to be free of the pandemic and he  “wondered” if the new Cabinet sought the advice of the National Emergency Operations Committee on the decisions it made last Friday.

He said the country is economically sound despite drop in revenues from border closures and last week had announced that the country has more than 11 months in foreign exchange reserves for the importing of goods.

“The only problem we have is delays in shipping due to the pandemic restrictions,” he said at that time.

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