The Spinoff 23 March 2021 – Much of the Pacific is Covid-free, so our island neighbours need to negotiate opening up travel with New Zealand and other countries carefully. Collin Tukuitonga explains the factors at play.
Most Pacific Island nations have remained free of Covid-19 since the pandemic began in early 2020. This is attributed mainly to early and effective border closures and public health measures by island governments.
Many of the islands’ economies rely heavily on trade and tourism, and most are now struggling with employment and income as a result of the prolonged lockdowns. For example, 80% of the Cook Islands economy is powered by tourism, and the absence of tourists has had a major negative impact on lives and livelihoods of people in that nation.
As a result, Pacific business and political leaders are exploring ways of opening their borders to tourists and other travellers while minimising the risk of introducing Covid-19 into their countries. Families also welcome the prospect of reconnecting with whānau living in the islands. In addition, political leaders in New Zealand are calling for less restrictive measures at the borders to enable seasonal and other workers from the islands to come to New Zealand to assist employers in areas where there is a labour shortage. The leader of the opposition has recently called for a quarantine-free-travel QFT arrangement with Fiji, Tonga and Sāmoa.