South Pacific island nations confirm that the economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating. The microstates have dodged the worst ravages of the novel virus outbreak, but now face another problem. Authorities should make the hardest ever choice between a risky reopening to tourists and economic collapse.
Pacific island nations across the globe are weighing when to ease restrictions that would save jobs but risk the virus running amok, AFP says. But the tradeoffs are perhaps starker in the South Pacific islands than almost anywhere else on the planet.
As coronacrisis proved, the Pacific paradise is fragile: most of these postcard-perfect archipelagoes have been spared outbreaks that would instantly overwhelm their weak health systems.
Despite Pacific island states remain virus-free, most of them remote dots in the ocean that sealed their borders when they saw the carnage COVID-19 was causing globally. The brightest exclusion is picturesque Fiji, where 18 cases have been reported although the authorities hope to be able to declare the islands virus-free later this month.
In some islands as much as 50 percent of GDP comes from tourism, region was always relied heavily on tourism. Of course, COVID-19 destroyed that fragile balance: flights have stopped, hotels have been abandoned, and revenue has dried up due to the novel virus.
“When Australia closed its borders to international travel, our resort went to zero income in three days,” Elizabeth Pechan, co-owner of Vanuatu’s The Havannah resort, wrote in a recent blog post.
In Vanuatu alone, 70 percent of tourism jobs have reportedly disappeared.
Amid the coronacrisis, Pacific island nations have no banking sources like IMF or CEB to race to the financial rescue. Thus, Palau’s Tourism Minister F. Umiich Sengebau said in the absence of direct air links with Australia and New Zealand, it made more sense for his country to pursue a bubble arrangement with Taiwan.