Bula Vinaka and Happy Fiji Day!
I spent this morning at our first Fiji Navy Church Service after five long months of worshipping from home. Sitting among my fellow servicemen and women, along with my loved ones and friends, new and old, I was grateful. Grateful to every Fijian who helped get us here; our doctors, nurses, and members of our disciplined forces, the lorry drivers, and our teams deploying food rations and disbursing unemployment assistance, and grateful to each of you, the Fijians who have chosen the protection that vaccines offer.
We did not regain the privilege of returning to our churches, temples and mosques simply because we wanted it or even demanded it. We earned it through sacrifice. Fiji’s streets were never filled with mask-less protestors calling for the premature rollback of health restrictions. We returned to our houses of worship, to our places of work, to our businesses and into the arms of our friends and family the right way: By becoming one of the fastest-vaccinated countries in the world. And we should be proud to have made that journey together with compassion, patience, and vigilance.
Over 80 percent of adults in Fiji are fully-vaccinated, and more than 96 percent have received at least one dose. You may remember that our target date for reaching the 80- percent threshold was 31 October. So, job well done, everyone. We hit our goal a full three weeks ahead of schedule. And today, on Fiji Day, we can celebrate with some major announcements about what we can all expect life will look like for us heading into December of this year.
My fellow Fijians, before we get to those changes, let me be clear that I am not here to roll out the victory banner and declare “mission accomplished”. 80.3 percent of adults may be fully vaccinated, but there are still many Fijians who are only partially vaccinated, meaning they have only received one dose, and partial protection is not enough. Our mission is to make sure all those Fijians get dose number two. And as for the several thousand who are not vaccinated at all –– some of whom represent large chunks of certain communities in certain locations–– we need to get them off the sideline and into this national effort.
In that spirit, we have a very big draw for our Win Together Sweepstakes today, with 51,000 dollars in prize money being split among ten fully-vaccinated Fijians in recognition of our 51st anniversary of independence. I’ve said before, the best reward for being vaccinated is the protection vaccines provide against COVID-19. But it takes time to get both doses, and those who have made that good choice deserve a “thank you” from their nation. That’s what we’re here to do. I’ll remind everyone of how the lottery works.
This screen behind me displays the same random number generator that we used last time. At the press of a button, it will run through all of the names of the fully-vaccinated Fijians who applied for this draw. Last time, we selected one winner. Today, we’re selecting ten. Each of whom will receive 5,100 dollars.
If you don’t see your name –– don’t worry. There will be more chances to win. We have Christmas draw planned for December where 10 fully-vaccinated adults will win 2,500 dollars each and 20 fully-vaccinated children from ages 12 to 17 will win 500 dollars each. We will announce details on when and how to apply.
Congratulations to our ten winners, we’ll be in contact with each of them to deliver the good news if they’re not watching already.
My fellow Fijians, we named this national vaccine lottery the Win Together sweepstakes because even if your name is not among these ten lucky Fijians — we all win when all of us become fully-vaccinated. We have shared in the sacrifice of this struggle — as His Excellency the President reminded us in his Fiji Day address — and we all share in the success of our response. Our national prize is the good health of our people and the ability to live our lives, and earn our living, as we all choose.
It pains me to know that so many of our citizens have been denied what we all once took for granted: the freedom to travel about our country and be with friends and family. The freedom to go to your jobs and earn yourselves a living. Because we acted decisively through polices like “no jab, no job”, we can restore many of our freedoms. Tens of thousands of Fijians now also have a chance to return to their livelihoods, whether they work in hotels, restaurants, bars, tour companies, factories, or as drivers, roadside vendors, or other self-employed entrepreneurs,
From today, 10 October, 2021:
The curfew hours will be from 11 pm until 4 am. I’ve said this before, no matter when it starts, a curfew is not normal and cannot exist indefinitely. Once 90% of adults are fully vaccinated, the curfew hours will be from midnight to 4 am. And once we have the data to show that the virus no longer presents a serious public health threat, we will lift the curfew entirely.
Nearly all businesses, workplaces including public transportation can operate at 80% capacity to children and to fully vaccinated adults. The only exceptions to this relaxation are taverns, bars, and gaming venues. These are especially high-risk businesses due to the way they require people to crowd together. We’ll be announcing a set of protocols that take effect from 11 November that will allow these venues to safely re-open to fully vaccinated members of the public.
All venues must use our new VAX-Check tool to verify the vaccine status of their patrons –– it’s easy and free.
Many people in Fiji have been forced to stay away from home due to our need to prevent the virus from traveling from island to island, and my heart goes out to them. But I’m happy to announce today that anyone who is fully vaccinated can now travel to Vanua Levu by boat or by air with transport companies that are COVID-safe compliant –– such as Fiji Link. Travellers must register a negative COVID-19 test result on Rapid COVID-19 Test before travel. Upon arrival, they must immediately enter home quarantine for a period of seven days, but they will be home with family at last. Travel to the other islands including the outer islands will still be maintained under the current protocols and easing of restrictions will be implemented once there are increased rates of vaccination. So, I once again urge all those in the islands to please get fully vaccinated as quickly as possible.
We plan to drop any quarantine requirement for inter-island travel once more Fijians in Vanua Levu and other islands are fully vaccinated. From 11 November, we will open regular inter-island travel if –– and only if –– vaccination rates continue to steadily rise in the Northern Division and the maritime islands.
These are measures I am truly happy to announce on Fiji Day, because they are important steps toward reuniting us physically as one nation and one people.
We have no choice but to keep some measures in place for now. We will continue to enforce a mask mandate for all indoor public venues, on public transportation, and in crowded public settings — like markets, shopping malls, and bus stands, and the police remain empowered to issue spot fines to rule-breakers. Businesses that poorly enforce mask-wearing will be fined or shut down. In all other settings outside your home, mask-wearing is still strongly encouraged. But it won’t be required to wear a mask if you’re walking the seawall, going for a jog or walk to exercise, or having a picnic on the beach—and obviously, it’s not required for a gathering in your home.
I am also very happy to announce that we can start playing contact sports again, including rugby, netball, football, basketball, and cricket. And there will be no restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings. Funerals, weddings, birthdays and other events can be held outdoors without restrictions on the number in attendance. Indoor venues can operate at 80% capacity, and everyone at the event must be fully-vaccinated. Again, let me remind everyone that mask-wearing is a must in all indoor public spaces and in crowded outdoor spaces.
Stadiums can also open. But spectators must be vaccinated and if sitting in close proximity at organised sporting events must wear masks.
Our ability to vaccinate adolescents from ages 15 to 17 now also gives us the opportunity to bring Years 12 and 13 students back to the classroom, and we will reopen classes for them beginning 1 November. The Ministry of Education will announce re-openings for other school years later, but we needed to give this group priority because many of these students are preparing for university or vocational training, and they are at an important point in their academic careers. So, I want to urge parents who have not made sure their 15, 16, or 17-year old is vaccinated to do so urgently so that they can be protected and be safe and get back to their normal schooling.
My fellow Fijians, this may almost sound like a full return to the COVID-Contained Fiji we knew earlier this year. It isn’t. If you think back to that time, you’ll remember why. Six months ago, most of us were not carrying masks with us everywhere we went. Too often, people were crowding where they should not have been. Most mobile phones did not have careFIJI installed. The virus felt a world away. It isn’t anymore. We are co-existing with the virus, not conquering it, and health experts now say we will have to do so.
Nearly every nation, including Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, has accepted that this virus will continue to circulate, like the common flu, and that vaccines are the most sustainable way forward. There will be cases of COVID-19 recorded in Fiji; we can count on that. But here is a critical fact: Vaccines will protect us. Vaccines ensure that cases –– when they do pop up –– are mild. Moving forward, we’ll be looking at rates of severe cases most carefully.
But as I’ve said, some Fijians are only partially-vaccinated, and a tiny minority are not vaccinated at all. What is more, we are still in the process of vaccinating our children, and we need to protect them. So we cannot afford a mad rush back to the carefree ways of living and doing business we once knew—at least not yet. We should be focussed on our adherence to rules that remain in place, not exploiting those that are being relaxed. Mask-wearing and physical distancing, and the use of the careFIJI app will continue to be firmly enforced in the settings I’ve just described.
Let me now issue a brief disclaimer. Nothing I am announcing is an irreversible decision. As you know, one of the constants during this pandemic has been change—change in what we know about the virus and how it spreads, change in the way we respond to new information, and changes in the restrictions we have had to endure based on the ebbs and flows of the pandemic.
We expect that widespread vaccination will protect us against the worst of the virus, but if we see serious outbreaks due to such things as new global variants that lead to concerning rates of hospitalisations, we will have no choice but to re-introduce restrictions. To sustain this recovery, we have to adapt to new ways of going about our lives. Unsafe habits like sharing the same bowl of grog or passing around the same cigarette butt should not happen. And not just when the cameras are rolling or when the police are watching. We have to actually change the way we think, we have to change our attitude and we have to change the way we do things, and the most important moments in that change are when no one is watching. My fellow Fijians, I am not the most important enforcer of our COVID-safe habits, and neither is the Commissioner of Police or his officers. It is not the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services, either. It is each of you.
Being a COVID-safe country is good for us, and it is for our economy. As we look to open our border, we have to recognise that tourists don’t just magically appear in our hotels. We have to attract them. And our tourists in this new normal are health and price sensitive. Our Fijian Hospitality –– which is loved so fondly around the world –– has to adapt around a new and unrelenting focus on health and wellbeing as we plan to re-open Fiji as the safest destination for tourism and travel anywhere in the world.
Fiji’s international border for tourism will re-open firstly to a list of travel partners, which includes Australia, New Zealand, United States of America, United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Qatar, Germany, Spain, France, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and most Pacific Island Countries and Territories. To come to Fiji, travellers must have spent at least 10 days in any of these places. This list isn’t fixed, Countries can be added as they achieve widespread vaccination of their populations.
Fiji will have a no-jab, no-fly policy. Travellers aged 18 years and above must be fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or — and this is a new addition — the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. And before departing for Fiji, anyone aged 12 years and above must show a negative RT-PCR result for COVID-19 from a test taken within three days of departure. At Nadi Airport, immediately upon arrival, all travellers must download careFIJI onto their phones.
From tomorrow, fully vaccinated travellers from these countries will have an amended seven-day quarantine period in Fiji, after which they will be tested for COVID-19 before entering the community.
From 11 November, we’ll re-open our border to these travel-partner countries in earnest. There will be no traditional quarantine requirement. Instead, we’ll have different sets of protocols for tourists, for residents, and for those visiting friends and relatives. I’ll go through each group’s requirements.
Tourists from travel-partner countries will have no quarantine requirement from 11 November onward ahead of our official reopening on 1 December. Instead, after showing proof of vaccination and testing negative for the virus 72 hours prior to their departure, they will arrive in Fiji and head straight to their hotel.
Tourists will spend their first two days in Fiji on their hotel premises. They won’t be locked in a room. They can use all hotel amenities and get settled in. Then, a Rapid Diagnostic Test taken 48 hours after their arrival will grant them free reign of safe-travel areas, where they can take part in tours that allow our tour operators to make a living, shop for souvenirs, and eat at restaurants. We’re drawing up the borders of those travel-safe areas now. They will be large enough for tourists to enjoy the best of Fiji, but restrictive enough to protect areas with low vaccination coverage. This two-day period of hotel confinement is a measure that we expect to relax as more Fijians become fully vaccinated.
Hotels and tour operators in Fiji that welcome these tourists must all become Care Fiji Commitment Certified by our COVID-19 Risk Management Taskforce –– no exceptions.
The Care Fiji Commitment Certification will be the industry standard for COVID-safe tourism. It will require all hotels and excursions to meet the highest standards of comfort, health and safety.
Hotels must guarantee access to comfortable, well-supplied isolation facilities and medical care such as testing, routine staff-swabbing, and escalation protocols in the event that positive cases are detected by private medical practitioners affiliated with these businesses.
It requires hotels to make the arrangements and bear the costs of all COVID-19 testing.
Hotels must also employ Wellness Ambassadors who will take on the responsibility of managing and monitoring these protocols as well as training staff. These ambassadors must undergo training through a programme run by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, in conjunction with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
All of these measures will be checked during the certification process and regularly enforced thereafter. Breaches will cause hotels and tour operators to be shut down.
We’re counting on the full cooperation of our tourism industry to ensure that when our borders do open, they stay open.
Ideally, these travel-safe areas will include all of our outer islands, the entire Coral Coast, Taveuni, Kadavu, and all of the North. Unfortunately, there are some locations with low vaccination coverage. For the sake of their residents, these areas are being deemed “no-go zones”. That means no tourists allowed. We’ll be publishing a map every week showing where these areas are located. Everyone –– tourist or not –– will be discouraged from stopping in these communities to shop or purchase items by the roadside until more of their residents get the jab. If you live in one of these places, you must get vaccinated so that you can be part of our COVID-safe future. This will help you reap the full benefits of our recovery — it is about jobs, income and connection. Don’t wait another day to be vaccinated, be protected and be part of Fiji’s reopening.
For returning residents from travel-partner countries or those visiting friends and relatives, our protocols are bit different. These travellers will want to leave the travel-safe areas, and they can. After spending three days on a hotel premises in Fiji, a negative COVID-19 test result will allow these travellers to enter Fijian communities in any location.
Finally, for travellers from countries that are not yet travel-safe partners, fully vaccinated travellers must complete a ten-day stint in a traditional quarantine centre upon arrival in Fiji before a negative COVID-19 test result clears them to enter the community.
To our friends in Australia and New Zealand and to the residents of other countries we’re preparing to welcome, our message is simple: Fiji is ready to welcome you back to our shores. We are entirely confident in our ability to manage the risk associated with quarantine-free travel. Our planes are prepared. Our airports are adapted. I’ve seen their protocols first-hand. The Fiji Airways team have been awaiting this day for months. They are more than ready to fly you safely to our shores, and they have the highest possible SKYTRAX 5-Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating and the Diamond certification by the Airline Passenger Experience Association or APEX to show for it. Every Fijian hotel and tour operator in Fiji will be certified under the “Care Fiji Commitment” program. And our people’s world-renowned hospitality is as wonderful as you all remember. Our first scheduled tourism flight to the country — on Fiji Airways — will be on 1 December.
Given that we are in the process of readjusting in the midst of so many changes, we will also put Daylight Savings Time on hold for this year. It will also make the reopening of scheduled commercial air service much smoother if we don’t have to be concerned shifting arrival and departure times, which may look like a simple thing but requires some significant logistical adjustments domestically and internationally.
That’s a broad overview. After this announcement, an expert panel with representatives from Fiji Airways, Tourism Fiji and our Hotel and Tourism Association, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport, and the PS for Health and Medical Services will go over the specifics and take questions from the media.
In his Fiji Day address, His Excellency the President spoke of hope. He told us that while hope for a better tomorrow has remained elusive for nearly two years of unknowns and uncertainty due to the pandemic, we should find the courage to embrace hope, for we have earned it.
Today, we heed those words by doing one better than hoping for our best future; we are planning carefully for its arrival. But we need all of you with us to sustain this reopening and spur on our economic recovery. Jobs depend on it. Livelihoods depend on it. Businesses depend on it. Most of all, lives depend on our continued adherence to the measures we know can keep us safe.
Happy Fiji Day. God Bless you all.
(Source: The Fiji Government Website)