Re-opening NZ to the Pacific must be a priority

National is calling on the Government to allow quarantine-free travel from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji into New Zealand, Leader of the Opposition and National’s Pacific Peoples spokesperson Judith Collins says.

“Samoa and Tonga have never had a community case of COVID-19, while Fiji hasn’t reported a community case in almost a year.

“With the Government poised to expand quarantine-free travel to include Australia and Niue, it can’t forget about our other Pacific neighbours.”

There are many reasons to prioritise more Pacific nations for quarantine-free travel, including the fact more than 400,000 Kiwis have roots in the Pacific, Ms Collins says.

“Many people in our Pacific communities have loved ones they haven’t seen in more than a year now. It’s time to let them reconnect and share important life moments together.”

COVID-19 has also been devastating for Pacific Island economies. Samoa has reported an 8.6 per cent fall in GDP, while Fiji has reported a 19 per cent fall. The World Bank has reported Fiji’s unemployment rate is at 27 per cent.

Allowing quarantine-free travel from these countries to New Zealand would have the economic benefit of allowing New Zealand to increase the size of its Recognised Seasonal Workers (RSE) scheme, providing jobs to those who come here from the Pacific Islands and helping our horticulture sector solve its massive labour-force shortfall.

It has been said that in six months, RSE workers can earn the equivalent of seven years’ basic wages in Samoa, Ms Collins says.

“Pacific Island leaders have been pleading with New Zealand for a bubble. Sadly, they are paying the price for our Government’s lack of urgency to get this done.

“New Zealand needs to step up and help our Pacific neighbours in their time of need. The best aid we can give the Pacific is to open our borders to our Covid-free neighbours.”

National would support these safe-zone arrangements evolving into two-way travel bubbles, but only when those Pacific nations were comfortable doing so, Ms Collins says.