COVID-19: Fiji tourism sector calls for New Zealand Government to explain travel bubble 'standstill'

Fiji's tourism sector is calling for the New Zealand Government to start taking travel bubble plans seriously, with no concrete arrangements in place to open a corridor with the island nation.

Brad Rutherford, a member of Fiji's Tourism Response Task Force, claims New Zealand has been reluctant to enter discussions despite Fiji being free of COVID-19 community transmission for almost a year. New Zealand has also gone more than two months without any locally acquired coronavirus cases.

Rutherford, also the chief executive of South Sea Cruises, told Newshub on Tuesday they need answers.

"There have been some discussions on a technical level but without the Government engagement, things can't progress.

"They're at a bit of a standstill at this point," Rutherford said.

He said the Fiji task force has put forward concepts but is accusing the New Zealand Government of being lacklustre.

Rutherford said New Zealand has been reluctant to engage in discussions despite Fiji's best efforts.

Sunset view from a pool by the sea in Fiji
Photo credit: Getty

"Combined with Fiji's status of being COVID contained and almost COVID free, along with the work that the hotel and tour operators have put in, Fiji is ready and willing to open its borders."

Newshub has approached the New Zealand Government for comment. 

The only concrete plans for a travel bubble so far is with the Cook Islands. From Thursday, people arriving in New Zealand from Rarotonga no longer have to quarantine.

However, New Zealanders can't enter the Cook Islands just yet. Both Governments said they were "working toward" resuming two-way in the first quarter of this year.

In December, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a travel bubble with Australia could also be in place from the first quarter of this year, but the state of New South Wales (NSW) has since had a COVID-19 outbreak and was plunged into lockdown over the holiday period. 

The outbreak is now largely under control, with NSW recording no cases of community transmission on Tuesday. Leading New Zealand epidemiologist Michael Baker said in December the outbreak would likely not affect travel bubble plans.

"It all comes down to how rapidly they can contain it - if they are successful, and I'm sure they will be - then we're back on track," Prof Baker told Magic Talk radio.