• Business at The Havannah resort in Vanuatu had “dried up” in just three days after the borders were closed off around the country. (Supplied. )Source: Supplied.
Pacific island nations have been forced to close their borders due to the coronavirus, effectively crippling a vital tourism industry and pushing thousands of people across the region deep into poverty.
Douglas Smith

The Point
14 May 2020 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 14 May 2020 - 4:56 PM

A recent survey has revealed the devastating impact of the coronavirus on the tourism industry in the Pacific region, with one country losing 70 per cent of its jobs in the sector and many other island nations facing the same scenario.

In a region where the national economies of countries such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga rely heavily on visitor numbers each year, thousands of jobs across the vastly isolated area have vanished after restrictions were imposed on international travel.

Elizabeth Pechan, a Ni-Vanuatu woman from Efate Island, owns and runs a boutique couple’s resort with her husband. 

She told NITV's The Point her business had “dried up” in just three days after the borders were closed. This led to her having to let more than 50 per cent of her staff go.

“Our income dried up straight away and we had to unfortunately lay off 50 percent of our staff which is really hard to do because they’re pretty much family,” she said.

“Two things really that have impacted tourism here is jobs and employment and also revenue to our Government and they ran a survey and their survey showed that 70 per cent of people in tourism directly have lost their jobs.”

Ms Pechan said her government should push for a seat at the table on the “Trans-Tasman Bubble” announced by Australia and New Zealand, if there was a guarantee there would be no risk of Coronavirus. 

“I would really love the people in authority... to join that conversation and to ask that Vanuatu be considered as part of that," she said. 

“We need to ensure that all our protocols are in place and that we’re ready for that time if it come." 

The tourism sector accounts for as much as 50% per cent of GDP  in some Pacific island countries — dollars that come from parts of the world where the COVID-19 pandemic has arguably hit hardest.

At the latest count, there were just over 270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pacific island countries, with seven deaths from the disease.

Dr Tess Newton Cain, a specialist in economic and political development in the Pacific region, told NITV's The Point there were a "mix of reactions" from Pacific leaders in working to facilitate a "Trans-Pacific Bubble."

“We’ve heard a minister in Papua New Guinea say, ‘yes, we want to be part of that, there should be a corridor between Moresby and Brisbane and he’s very supportive of his country being involved in that as is the Attorney-General of Fiji...elsewhere people have been a bit more cautious,” said Dr Cain.

“The Health Minister of Tonga has said that if Tonga were to open its borders, they would be looking at having a bubble with countries where there are no infections, so that wouldn’t include Australia and New Zealand, but it might include Vanuatu and Samoa for example.”

However, Dr Cain said the primary concern for countries in the pacific was the “protection of populations from infection risk.”

The Australian Government has recently announced it would boost it’s support in the region by repurposing a significant amount of the aid that is currently going to the Pacific for natural disasters, so that it could address COVID-19 impacts.

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