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  01 Dec 2021, 10:57

Joy as Fiji reopens borders to international tourists

 NADI, Fiji, Dec 1, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Traditional dancers in grass skirts
welcomed waving holidaymakers as Fiji opened its borders to international
travellers Wednesday for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the
globe and devastated its tourism-reliant economy.

  Fiji Airways flight FJ914 arrived a Nadi airport from Sydney at 11.40am
(2340 Tuesday GMT), ending 615 days of international isolation for the
Pacific island nation.

  As the plane taxied down the runway, two fire engines lined up and aimed
their hoses in the air to honour it with a water salute.

  Inside the terminal, face coverings obscured the beaming smiles of tourism
operators but cries of "bula" (hello) and indigenous songs of celebration
reverberated around the building.

  Fiji Airways chief executive Andre Viljoen said it was a "momentous"
occasion after a tough 20 months for the tropical destination, where tourism
accounts for about 40 percent of the economy.

  "The international border reopening will reignite Fiji's economy," he told
reporters.

  Viljoen said strict health measures were in place to contain Covid-19 and
the recent emergence of the Omicron variant had not deterred passengers.

  "Flights are coming in at full capacity," he said. Fiji has tightened
restrictions on arrivals from southern Africa but made no changes to rules
surrounding "travel partner" countries, whose citizens can now experience 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.

  Tourism Fiji chief executive Brent Hill said resorts on the two main
islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu were gearing up for an influx of foreign
travellers.

  "We've noted around 75,000 bookings for the next couple of months, which is
outstanding," he said.

  "We know our job has just started and we look forward to seeing more
tourists coming in 2022."

  Foreign visitors need to be fully vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19
prior to departure, as well as providing a 14-day travel history to ensure
they have not visited virus hotspots.

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

  Fiji managed to eliminate Covid-19 for 12 months before a devastating
second wave of the Delta variant earlier this year caused almost 700 deaths
in the nation of one million. In the past week, it has reported one death and
a few dozen infections.

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