Fiji proceeds with border reopening despite Omicron
Fiji will press on with plans to reopen its border to international travellers on Wednesday, despite the threat from the newly identified Omicron Covid-19 variant, the Pacific nation's leader has told parliament.
Fiji has long targeted December 1 as the day it will welcome back foreign holidaymakers to boost a tourism-reliant economy devastated since the pandemic forced borders to close in March last year.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said Omicron's recent emergence would not derail the plans and he would personally welcome the first Fiji Airways flight into Nadi from Australia on Wednesday morning.
"We are still emerging from the horrible pandemic that we suffered and are just starting to recover from its economic devastation," he told parliament on Monday.
"Businesses are rebuilding... and people everywhere are resuming their normal lives.
The Omicron variant has rattled global markets and prompted some countries to tighten border controls, with Japan and Israel planning to bar all new foreign travellers.
Fiji has tightened restrictions on arrivals from southern Africa but made no changes to rules surrounding "travel partner" countries whose citizens can still take a tropical getaway in the Pacific idyll.
They include Japan, New Zealand, the United States and France, as well as countries where Omicron has been detected such as Australia, Canada and Britain.
Bainimarama was confident Fiji's 90 percent vaccination rate among adults would help contain any outbreak, provided strict health protocols are observed.
"We all must remain serious and vigilant and keep up our guard," he said.
Foreign visitors need to be fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19 prior to departure.
Once in Fiji, they must stay in designated zones where all contacts, from hospitality staff to tour operators, will be fully vaccinated.
Fiji managed to eliminate Covid-19 for 12 months before a devastating second wave of the Delta variant caused almost 700 deaths in the nation of one million.
The health department said there was little Fiji could do to keep Omicron out if initial assessments were correct about how easily it spreads.
"The public is advised that if indeed the virus is more transmissible than Delta, then it will be inevitable that it gets to Fiji," it said.
Reviving tourism, which government figures estimate accounts for 40 percent of Fiji's economy, is seen as crucial to containing rising poverty.
Bainimarama said the pandemic had created "the strongest economic headwinds we have ever faced" and Fiji needed to attract as many foreign visitors as possible.
"We must be a cost-competitive destination," he said.
"In the critical months that lie ahead, we will be competing fiercely for regional and global market share, and we can take nothing for granted.
"We must fight for every tourist dollar. I know we will succeed."