12 May 2020

Fiji keen to join NZ-Australia travel bubble

6:59 am on 12 May 2020

Fiji has put its hand up to join New Zealand and Australia's travel bubble amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Friday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was keen to reopen NZ's borders with its Pacific island neighbours.

Fiji's Attorney-General, Aiyaz Saiyed Khaiyum, said he had discussed his government's plans with its two major partners in the region.

Mr Khaiyum said it was important that New Zealand and Australia understood the "hub status" of Fiji in the Pacific.

"We talked about the travel bubble, the requirements and indeed the time period in which New Zealand is looking at opening up their borders.

Fiji's attorney general,  Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Fiji's attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Photo: AFP/Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto

"New Zealand's first priority is obviously Australia. What we did highlight to them is that there needs to be a more nuance approach in terms of dealing with us in the Pacific."

Mr Khaiyum urged New Zealand and Australia to assess each country individually as the Pacific island states had different experiences, capacities and capabilities of their health system during the pandemic.

Jacinda Ardern and her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, had announced they would ease travel restrictions between the two countries as soon as it was safe to do so.

Ms Ardern said New Zealand was keen to work out post-Covid-19 travel bubble arrangements with Australia first before talking to the Pacific countries.

"New Zealand is keen to reopen borders with its Pacific island neighbours but not just yet."

But the Fijian government said New Zealand and Australia needed to understand that the Pacific island countries were different from each other.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Gary Ramage / Julian Smith / POOL / AFP

The Attorney General said rather than thinking that if they had to open up the bubble, they would need to open up to everybody, New Zealand and Australia could look at how each island country was handling the coronavirus crisis.

Aiyaz Saiyed Khaiyum said since Fiji's 18th case was recorded on 21 April, there were no new cases of the virus and only four patients remained isolated in hospital.

"We have been fairly good in terms of the way that we've handled the cases relating to Covid-19, in terms of our recovery and the fact that we are one of the few, first countries to close its borders in respect to the high-risk countries, in respect to the cruise liners. We also have this very successful fever clinics that have gone around the country with over 700,000 people tested.

"These things don't get resolved overnight or decisions made overnight. There are various risks to be considered. In Australia's cases, they have different states with difference in positions or quarantine requirements in place. But that is something they'll need to resolve."

Mr Khaiyum said Fiji had put its hand up to join the travel bubble and it was looking at placing itself "in a more prime position for example the legal frameworks."

He said if there was protocol developed that if a New Zealander who had to travel to Fiji "then they should perhaps be compulsory temperature testing before they get on the plane from NZ and then they get off, there could be another test here."

He said a lot of work was needed to be done in these areas including a detailed analysis.

"What happens, for example, if a person does not have a temperature before they leave NZ but when they land in Fiji they do have a temperature? What happens to the airline tickets, what happens to travel insurance? Where do they get kept? If they need to be quarantined, what are the expenses?"

Contract tracing app

Meanwhile, the Attorney General said the Singaporean government had made available the source code for a contact tracing app that the Singaporeans were using.

Aiyaz Saiyed Khaiyum said this would help build the confidence not only for the Fijians but also among potential visitors to Fiji.

"We understand the Australians have a variation of that. We thank the Singaporeans for that as they have made the source code available for free.

"There's a team at the Ministry of Communications working with a team from New Zealand and an IT group from the USP and we hope to pilot the contact-tracing app within ourselves in the next week or so to see the stability of the system and then we can roll it out.

"We need to be proactive in the manner in which we mitigate those risks and put our best foot forward. It also gives confidence to any foreigners who want to do business with Fiji."

NZ resumes cargo flights to Fiji

Earlier, the Attorney-General said Air New Zealand resumed its cargo flights from Auckland to Nadi on the weekend.

Aiyaz Saiyed Khaiyum said a lot of work had been done by the government to ensure Fiji had the right positioning "legally and technically."

"On Saturday, Air NZ resumed its cargo flight but nobody got off and nobody got on. The pilots stay on the plane. The goods are taken out and goods loaded and they fly out. The same that Fiji Airways has been doing.

"That obviously shows that trade is taking place and we want to be able to recommence those types of transactions but making sure there is a protection wall built around it.

"Last week, a Fiji Airways flight from Los Angeles and nearly two thirds of the cargo was bound for NZ. So Fiji is facilitating that and obviously there's potential for trade for other airlines too."

Mr Khaiyum said the Ministry of Health had been urged to continue communication with their counterparts in New Zealand and Australia to build that confidence and ensure "we can get into their bubble as soon as possible."