Vaccines an injection of hope for Pacific


    By Kishti Sen & Tom Kenny

    The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Pacific islands has so far exceeded expectations in positive news for the region’s prospects of an economic recovery. In part, this is a result of assistance from the region’s development partners, in particular Australia and New Zealand.

    Fiji (the Pacific islands’ most populous country) aims to vaccinate 53 per cent of its adult population (one dose each for about 316,000 people) by the end of June and have all adults fully vaccinated by October.

    “International tourism may return to the Pacific islands in late 2021 and build momentum into 2022.”

    Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Cook Islands have all commenced their vaccination programs. Cook Islands is most advanced.

    With optimism on vaccine deployment rising, ‘herd immunity’ could be reached before the end of the year and international tourism may return to the Pacific islands in late 2021, building momentum into 2022.

    However risks remain. Setbacks on vaccine efficacy (for instance, if approved vaccines are unable to neutralise new variants) would keep borders shut for longer and delay the economic recovery.

    On the positive side, a quicker rollout of vaccines, to between 80 per cent and 85 per cent of the adult population, could see international borders reopen earlier. Furthermore, many Pacific island countries have not had any community transmission of the virus.

    Travel bubbles, where quarantine-free travel between countries or regions with low or no incidence of COVID-19, could be implemented before herd immunity is achieved.

    New Zealand and the Cook Islands have already established a safe travel corridor. Naturally, if a safe travel corridor can be implemented, then tourism could return sooner, which would be a welcome economic boost.

    However, Fiji’s recent community outbreak has probably delayed a safe travel zone with neighbours Australia and New Zealand until later in the year.

    Kishti Sen is an International Economist & Tom Kenny is Senior International Economist at ANZ