23 Mar 2021

Fiji's Bula Bubble suffers setback

1:39 pm on 23 March 2021

Fiji's push for a travel bubble with New Zealand and Australia amid the Covid-19 pandemic has suffered a setback.

Tourism staff in Fiji greet visitors to their resort in the Yasawa Islands

Tourism staff in Fiji greet visitors to their resort in the Yasawa Islands Photo: Kate Livingstone

Fiji's government said it has proven itself as a safe destination for travellers during the pandemic with no cases reported in the community for more than 320 days.

Fiji said it was ready to open its border to Australia and New Zealand and urged both countries to join its so-called Bula Bubble scheme.

But its major regional partners say the Fijians are not on the priority list for a seat on the trans-Tasman travel bubble, just yet.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday several concerns needed to be resolved before a trans-Tasman bubble could go ahead.

However, the government hopes on 6 April to announce a start date.

New Zealand will also work on contact tracing requirements, QR codes, arrangements of testing that might or not be required, between now and 6 April, Ardern said.

"When we have met these criteria, we anticipate we will be in a position to open the bubble."

New Zealand currently has a quarantine-free one-way travel bubble from the Cook Islands and is set to resume flights to another of its realm countries, Niue, tomorrow.

Speaking to Fijian broadcaster Radio Tarana in Auckland last week, Ardern said the safe travel zones with its realm countries and the trans-Tasman bubble are priorities for her government.

Next steps on a separate two-way bubble with the Cook Islands are due to continue in bilateral talks with prime minister Mark Brown later this week, Ardern said.

Currently, travellers from both realm countries can enter New Zealand quarantine free, she said.

"The question is, what happens to New Zealanders going into the Cook Islands and Niue?"

"Obviously, Niue and the Cook Islands haven't taken the same approach on timelines. One has been a little more willing to wait a little longer than the other.

"But what I think I'll do is just wait until we've got PM Brown in our country on Friday to talk a little more detail around that."

Ardern said Cabinet has not considered opening up its border to Fiji and the rest of the Pacific anytime soon.

But she said Fiji could be considered for an expanded bubble between Australia, Singapore and New Zealand later in the year.

"We have already got quarantine free travel into NZ from the Cook Islands and Niue," the prime minister said. "So when we have got something ready to go, we will move on it."

Ardern said New Zealand's priority is sitting on the trans-Tasman [bubble] so "we haven't entered into specific talks with any other country".


.. Photo: Fiji Australia Business Council

Envoy highlights Australia's key areas

Australia is committed to reopening travel with Fiji, said its high commissioner in Suva John Feakes.

But only when it's safe to do so, he said.

Feakes had addressed members of the Fiji-Australia Business Council in Nadi last Friday to mark Fiji's one-year anniversary of border restrictions since its first Covid-19 case.

More than 100,000 workers in Fiji's tourism sector have been laid off or on reduced hours since last March.

Feakes told the council that the transTasman travel bubble and vaccines are the priority for his government amid the pandemic.

He said Australia understood the importance of international travel to Fiji's economy but the government did not want to underestimate the Covid challenges faced by its five states.

"Very much understood by our system, by my prime minister and by my minister, Senator Payne, and the Australian government remains committed to reopening travel, when it's safe to do so.

"But I don't want to underestimate the challenges involved given the complexities arising from managing an ever-changing Covid situation across a number of jurisdictions in Australia."

Australia was a federated state, Feakes said, and its five states had enormous say in travel arrangements which the federal government was able to implement.

He assured the council of Australian updates on developments and travel as well as vaccines.

"I know that there will be strong interests to everyone in these updates not only of the impact on you personally but because on the economy and on your businesses," he said.

Feakes said Covid had thrown up a raft of travel and logistical challenges, which were previously unimaginable.

The close co-operation between the private sector and government had been critical in ensuring supply chains and businesses remained open, he said.

Meanwhile, Fiji recorded another border quarantine Covid case last weekend and now has 67 cases - one active, 64 recovered and two deaths.

Since Monday, New Zealand's total confirmed Covid cases was at 2106, and the new historical case brings the count since 1 January to 41 with 26 deaths reported.

Australia has recorded close to 30,000 Covid cases with 147 active cases and 909 deaths.

An island in the Yasawa Group, one of Fiji's tourist playgrounds

An island in the Yasawa Group, one of Fiji's tourist playgrounds Photo: RNZI/Sally Round