Private sector calls for open border target

The Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) has called for Vanuatu to reopen its international borders when 90 per cent of eligible people on Efate Island are fully vaccinated against COVID.

The chamber’s president, Antoine Boudier, says the opening of borders when the country reaches this vaccination milestone will help to “rebuild the economy”.

He called on the public not to put off getting vaccinated so that the country could reopen its borders as quickly as possible.

“The economy of a nation is dependent on the income businesses and industries can generate,” said Mr Boudier.

He says tourism is a good example of how local businesses impact Vanuatu’s economy – and says reopening the tourism industry is not just about reopening hotels and re-employing hotel staff.

He says the return of tourists will also have a wider impact, boosting things like local currency exchange and banking services; and sales of local handicrafts and food such as fish and vegetables.

Mr Boudier says while many civil servants have not been heavily impacted by the global COVID pandemic, those running private businesses or working in the private sector are struggling.

“Those who still have a job have to also support the other people in their families who have lost their jobs,” Mr Boudier said.

The VCCI president also commented on the impact of COVID restrictions on crucial imports to Vanuatu.

Mr Boudier says with Vanuatu now allowing fully-vaccinated workers to travel abroad to work – the country needs to also start welcoming incoming visitors.

“We can welcome people into Vanuatu as long as we follow the right procedures, in the same way as we are protecting people who travel to work overseas.”

Mr Boudier says Fiji’s decision to make COVID vaccination compulsory and to reopen its international borders on 1 December sets a really positive example.

“Today in Vanuatu, the Government has not made vaccines compulsory,” he said.

“Some people here argue that it is the right of an individual to either get the vaccine or not, but at the end of the day, around the world, many people who have died of COVID-19 have not taken the vaccine.

“I understand our health facilities are limited and that it will be difficult to manage an outbreak here, so the government is keeping the borders closed and is pushing to get more people vaccinated.”

Mr Boudier says over 18,000 people have booked flights to travel to Fiji when its borders open in December and that three airlines are ready to start operating flights in and out of Fiji.

The Cook Islands and several Australian states have also reopened their borders to international travellers.

The owner of The Havannah Vanuatu resort on Efate, Greg Pechan, wants the Government to set a deadline for people to get vaccinated so Vanuatu’s international borders can reopen.

“Now is not the time for people to wait, they must understand the importance of getting the vaccine now,” Mr Pechan said.

“If we can reach an 85 per cent level of vaccination, then the government can reopen borders.”

Mr Pechan says he has been struggling to operate his hotel and to keep his staff on normal salaries during the pandemic.

He is running the hotel at a reduced capacity three days a week, so his staff can support their families, and has been bussing locals to Port Vila to get vaccinated.

Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health has not set a level of vaccinations that it says would trigger a border reopening.

But, the Minister of Health, Silas Bule, has warned the public that international borders “will not stay closed forever”, and says people should “step up and take vaccines”.

“We have to open the border in the future to support our economy and as COVID-19 is just next door, if we are not careful it will enter Vanuatu.”

He says the Government is now focusing on offering a short-term stimulus package to the productive sector and ensuring revenue is sufficient to pay public servants’ wages.

Travel to Vanuatu is currently restricted, with the country only allowing fully-vaccinated citizens to return from overseas; and requiring them to undergo 14 days quarantine on arrival in Port Vila.

Health officials are continuing to roll-out COVID-19 vaccinations across the country, with vaccinations underway in Shefa, Sanma, Tafea and Malampa provinces.

Vaccinations will commence in Penama and Torba provinces in November.

Vanuatu started its vaccination program in June, and as of 19 October, more than 96,000 people have had their first jab or are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health is working to source more vaccines so it can protect all eligible members of the population from COVID.

 

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