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Fiji . Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/Getty Images

Fiji to reopen borders for tourists to rescue its coronavirus-hit economy, while fighting an outbreak of the Delta variant

  • The island nation in the South Pacific relies on tourism for 40 per cent of its economy, and plans to open up to vaccinated visitors from ‘green list’ countries
  • Fiji has been fighting a Delta variant outbreak since April, and the opposition party says health is more important than tourist dollars

Fiji plans to reopen for international tourists by November, aiming to rebuild its pandemic-devastated economy while battling a Delta-variant coronavirus outbreak.

“Our goal is to free our country – and our economy – from the rut of the pandemic,” Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in a statement last week.

Once 80 per cent of Fiji’s eligible population is vaccinated, it will offer quarantine-free travel to visitors from a “green list” of locations. Of Fiji’s eligible population, 66 per cent is now fully vaccinated and Bainimarama predicts the country’s target will be met by November 1.

Fiji’s green list includes Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Korea, Singapore and parts of the United States. Visitors would need to be fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19 before departure. Once in Fiji, they would stay in designated zones where all contacts, from hospitality staff to tour operators, would be fully vaccinated.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says Fiji plans to reopen for international tourists by November. Photo: Mick Tsikas/AFP

Reviving tourism, which government figures estimate accounts for 40 per cent of Fiji’s economy, is seen as crucial to containing rising poverty in the nation of under one million people. But the main opposition, the Social Democratic Liberal Party (Sodelpa), has criticised the plans.

“We have got to have our priorities right – health first over the economy,” Sodelpa leader Bill Gavoka told Radio New Zealand. “I don’t believe Fiji is ready.”

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Former health minister Neil Sharma said high vaccination rates would not stop the virus from spreading. “If you look at vaccination, all it does is prevent an individual from ending up in hospital and/or the mortuary.

“You can still acquire and transmit the virus so it’s not a guarantee,” he said.

Fiji was free of community transmission for a year before a Delta outbreak started in April. That outbreak’s case numbers peaked in mid-June with more than 1,200 new infections daily. Only 79 cases were recorded on Sunday.

Fiji’s tourists mostly come from Australia and New Zealand, and both countries have strict return quarantines. Photo: Shutterstock

The bulk of Fiji’s tourists come from Australia and New Zealand, where foreign travel is strongly discouraged, and travellers from both countries face a two-week quarantine at their own expense upon returning home.

Despite the obstacles, governance watchdog Dialogue Fiji said borders needed to reopen to kick-start an economy that shrank 20 per cent last year.

“It’s a very difficult choice for the Fijian government, as opening the border will make us vulnerable to other, potentially deadlier variants,” executive director Nilesh Lal said.

“On the other hand, a protracted economic decline could see Fiji suffer a recession with wide-ranging impacts.”