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  30 Nov 2021, 09:31

Fiji proceeds with border reopening despite Omicron

  SUVA, Fiji, Nov 30, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Fiji will press on with plans to
reopen its border to international travellers on Wednesday, despite the
threat from the newly identified Omicron Covid-19 variant, the Pacific
nation's leader has told parliament.

  Fiji has long targeted December 1 as the day it will welcome back foreign
holidaymakers to boost a tourism-reliant economy devastated since the
pandemic forced borders to close in March last year.

  Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said Omicron's recent emergence would not
derail the plans and he would personally welcome the first Fiji Airways
flight into Nadi from Australia on Wednesday morning.

  "We are still emerging from the horrible pandemic that we suffered and are
just starting to recover from its economic devastation," he told parliament
on Monday.

  "Businesses are rebuilding... and people everywhere are resuming their
normal lives.

  The Omicron variant has rattled global markets and prompted some countries
to tighten border controls, with Japan and Israel planning to bar all new
foreign travellers.

  Fiji has tightened restrictions on arrivals from southern Africa but made
no changes to rules surrounding "travel partner" countries whose citizens can
still take a tropical getaway in the Pacific idyll.

  They include Japan, New Zealand, the United States and France, as well as
countries where Omicron has been detected such as Australia, Canada and
Britain.

  Bainimarama was confident Fiji's 90 percent vaccination rate among adults
would help contain any outbreak, provided strict health protocols are
observed. "We all must remain serious and vigilant and keep up our guard," he
said.

  - Omicron 'inevitable' -

  Foreign visitors need to be fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19
prior to departure.

  Once in Fiji, they must stay in designated zones where all contacts, from
hospitality staff to tour operators, will be fully vaccinated.

  Fiji managed to eliminate Covid-19 for 12 months before a devastating
second wave of the Delta variant caused almost 700 deaths in the nation of
one million.

  The health department said there was little Fiji could do to keep Omicron
out if initial assessments were correct about how easily it spreads.

  "The public is advised that if indeed the virus is more transmissible than
Delta, then it will be inevitable that it gets to Fiji," it said.

  Reviving tourism, which government figures estimate accounts for 40 percent
of Fiji's economy, is seen as crucial to containing rising poverty.

  Bainimarama said the pandemic had created "the strongest economic headwinds
we have ever faced" and Fiji needed to attract as many foreign visitors as
possible.

  "We must be a cost-competitive destination," he said.

  "In the critical months that lie ahead, we will be competing fiercely for
regional and global market share, and we can take nothing for granted.

  "We must fight for every tourist dollar. I know we will succeed."

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