So Vanuatu – What’s Your Plan?

An empty Eratap Beach Resort. Photo: Supplied

It has been 18 months since Covid came crashing into our lives causing Vanuatu to close its borders and ruining the livelihoods of most people in Vanuatu.

Bus and taxi drivers, market mamas, security personnel, hospitality staff, chefs, waiters, retailers, accommodation providers, tour operators, musicians, fishermen, airport workers; the list is endless. Until the borders are reopened the suffering will continue and we will reach a point where there is no economy left. That point is getting closer by the day.

One of the hardest aspects of dealing with Covid has been the inability to make informed decisions given the future is so unpredictable, the goal posts seem to change on a weekly basis. Without any predictability the chances of navigating through this mess becomes impossible.

We have all been searching and hoping for something to change this awful scenario and finally it has arrived – the vaccine. Vaccines not only save lives, they remove future uncertainties helping authorities to finally make more concrete and accurate decisions.

For the battered and bruised people of Vanuatu this should bring some welcome relief.

But why am I not jumping up and down with joy?

Probably because in Vanuatu I am still not seeing any certainty about the way forward.

Most countries that decided to close their borders to keep the virus out are now providing timelines and plans for reopening based on vaccine uptake. We all know that the vaccines are the ONLY real solution.

Travel bubbles are what we did before we had a vaccine, they have been proven multiple times to not work long term and end up using valuable time and effort that should be directed towards vaccinating. Right now, it’s all about vaccination bubbles. Getting vaccinated greatly reduces the chances of getting the virus but even if you do get it the symptoms will not be serious, essentially turning Covid into the Flu.

Over in Fiji they have announced they are reopening their country in December. With 97% of their adult population already receiving their first vaccine dose and 52% their second, they are well on track to achieve this.

In Australia their plan is to reopen when 80% of the population over 16 have been double vaccinated.

The reopening date is easily tracked using daily vaccination uptake data. At the moment this date looks to be around mid November.

New Zealand plan on completing their vaccination process by the end of this year and will reopen their borders gradually early in 2022.

Kiribati recently announced they were reopening their borders in January 2022.

Such definitive forecasts are crucial. They help people to make clearer decisions about the future and more importantly they give hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But what about Vanuatu?

If we look at current vaccination rates we are likely to have 80% of all adults over 18 in the Shefa Province vaccinated by mid December.

This is a great start but it does mean it will have taken 6.5 months to achieve this. What about the rest of Vanuatu?

What are the goals that need to be achieved before Vanuatu reopens its borders to quarantine free travel? Will it be a vaccination target of 80% of the adult population or will the entire population need to be vaccinated? Will Vanuatu remain closed until this is done or will it reopen in stages, one Province at a time? Is there a plan to increase the speed at which vaccines are being administered?

We not only need to be told what these goals are, we desperately need to know when they are likely to be achieved. There is now surely enough information at hand to be making such decisions – other countries have shown that. Until we have a reopening date and a plan to get us there we are simply prolonging the agony and watching the world move on without us.

Tony Pittar is the owner of Eratap Beach Resort. He is also part of the VHRA Executive and a Vanuatu Citizen.

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