Tourism Talanoa: Don’t Hesitate to Vaccinate

Tourism Talanoa: Don’t Hesitate to Vaccinate

FHTA, 18 March 2021 – Last week Fiji `made history as it joined the many countries that have begun vaccination programmes for their people and became one of the first few Pacific Island nations to do so.

The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) welcomed the news that the first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines is being administered to our frontline workers who include medical staff, disciplined forces involved in maintaining border security and COVID-safe operations, and relevant airline, airport, transport and quarantine hotel staff.

These frontliners have continuously put themselves at risk since the onset of border closures by being the first line of contact for repatriated citizens and residents and we commend them for their service in keeping Fiji safe. The country must also acknowledge with deep appreciation the many medical staff who have also been managing the successful, continued containment of border cases as and when they are confirmed, within the 14 days of their quarantine period.

The vaccine has been brought into the country as part of the COVAX facility initiative to distribute the vaccines to countries like Fiji and there is expected to be over 100,000 vaccine doses in total brought in-country, with more expected to be accessed to sufficiently cover our adult population.

This news has been greeted with and being discussed with much enthusiasm by tourism stakeholders.

The anticipation that vaccines would be eventually available was always going to be a game-changer for travel and tourism around the world.

For Fiji, an effective rollout will be critical for everyone’s health and safety, the revival of the tourism industry and thousands of people getting their jobs back.

FHTA has reiterated industry stakeholders’ support offered earlier to the Ministry of Health & Medical Services with the logistics of rolling out the vaccines and any other support including transport and communications.

After several lead-up meetings and the recent launch in Nadi of the first of several Tourism Talanoas expected to take place that will continue industry consultation forums; the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Health officials were appraised of the type of support available that could enhance efficiencies, reduce costs and provide innovative solutions to accessing remote communities.

Let it be known that the Fiji tourism industry has been, and is ready to assist, and understands how critical it is to maintain Fiji’s COVID containment status and to continue to be recognised as a “safe destination.

The pace of recovery for the tourism sector will be directly linked to how quickly the majority of our population gets vaccinated and we acknowledge that this may take some time.

Countries around the world including New Zealand and Australia are now progressing their vaccination programs as quickly as they can, along with reviewing border reopening conditions and timeframes.

Anyone waiting for the economy to gear up, hoping to get their jobs back, or trying to get their business off the backburner should understand the need to support efforts to successfully access the balance of vaccine doses urgently needed for Fiji to stay aligned with vaccination programs taking place around the world.

This may be the one time that Fiji cannot afford to be different from the rest of the world. The COVID-19 virus is not leaving anytime soon, so we would be best prepared by being vaccinated against it.

In the 1950s and earlier. Polio was a feared, life-threatening disease. The Polio vaccine is now given to young children and over decades of continued vaccinations, the disease has been almost wiped out in countries around the world.

In Fiji, it is part of the list of vaccinations we ensure our children receive that are included in their health cards which are checked when reaching school entry age. We consider the list of required vaccines part of growing up safely in Fiji. They are not new, have become part of our lives so people do not turn to social media to question it.

So, recent fear-mongering on social media regarding the vaccine for a recently discovered disease that spreads very similarly to other airborne viruses damages the good that is being done to protect our population. Some of the false information being circulated has been somewhat disingenuous as well as cynical or it may be simply a fear of needles or the unknown, spurring the spreading of false information.

It must be noted that side-effects are always expected for any vaccine. Some of us carry the scars on our upper arms for vaccinations in high school while others had no reactions. Most of us laughed at those poor kids who fainted at the sight of the needle. Some became feverish later, but most did not and certainly, no-one ever died.

FHTA has continued to work closely with our members to ensure that they are always kept abreast of the recent relevant updates that affect or impact the tourism industry including the vaccination programme, with the widespread response from the industry indicating readiness, even impatience, to be next in line to get vaccinated.

However, while the vaccine adds another, deeper layer of protection, it is not a magic bullet that will allow us to go back to how things were pre-COVID. It has been widely accepted that it is highly unlikely things will ever go back to pre-COVID times. Too much has changed and the enforced pause on our daily lives and businesses has caused a re-evaluation of how we do almost everything.

We will therefore have to continue observing the COVID-safe guidelines of reduced crowding, protective masks, hand washing and sanitizing. At least until we can get confirmation that we have eliminated the virus. Which will never happen unless we are all vaccinated. And continuing with border closures for years to come is not an option for this industry. Or for Fiji’s economic recovery.

So, this is our new normal. Fiji can and will be on-par with the world in terms of keeping our people safe and being ready to confirm our COVID-contained, soon-to-be vaccinated status and nearly ready for international travel again.

And we simply cannot wait for that happier, safer day!

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 18 March 2021)