Our border reopening might have been paused out of concern over Omicron – but one nation is pushing ahead – and Aussies are jumping at the chance.
The unknown threat of Omicron has triggered concern and extra coronavirus restrictions not just in Australia but across the world.
Despite the potential threat, Fiji is pushing ahead with its reopening plan and will welcome hundreds of Aussie tourists from today from both Melbourne and Sydney.
Dozens of people flocked to Sydney International Airport to catch the first flight into Nadi in more than 20 months, with the plane expected to touch down just before 11.30am local time.
Traveller’s reasons for escaping to Fiji were mixed, with some going to see family they hadn’t seen for years but plenty of others getting away to celebrate their honeymoons, wedding anniversaries and babymoons.
Newlyweds Samuel and Melissa Kares, who were married last Monday, said their dream had initially been to get away to the Maldives but Fiji was a worthy replacement.
“We got married last Monday … so we wanted to go to the Maldives originally – then we downgraded to Queensland when we were planning it a year and a half ago – then it was looking like Melbourne, because we’re originally from Melbourne, but yeah thank God it opened up so we could go to Fiji,” Samuel said.
“We’re very happy with Fiji.”
The couple said they weren’t too worried about the Omicron variant – just about the potential risk of hotel quarantine.
“We’re just hoping when we come back it’s not too difficult … the lockdown rules and stuff,” Melissa said.
“But we’re pretty lucky because we can work from home.”
Joel Fitzgibbon and his partner Trizzia Zuluaga were making a last dash overseas as a couple before their baby was born.
“We just needed a trip somewhere close. I chose Fiji primarily because I wasn’t sure what my morning sickness would be like on the plane so this is probably our last holiday as a couple,” Trizzia said.
“We’re just trying to make the most of it before the end of the year.”
The couple had no idea they were on the first flight out, admitting they had jumped at the chance after seeing an ad for Fiji Airways on social media.
“I literally saw a message on Facebook to say that Fiji Airways was starting flights on the first of December and within an hour I had that accommodation and everything booked,” Trizzia said.
The couple are only going away for a week and aren’t worried about the Omicron variant.
“I think we should be safe in Fiji. We just have to keep our wits about us but there’s a lot of testing over there so we’ll just have to keep up with the news,” Trizzia added.
Alex and Bella Epshteyn were off to Fiji to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary.
“We didn’t know we were on the first flight out when we booked but we do now … we’re very excited,” Bella said.
The couple said there was no point being worried about Omicron.
“It’s not really in our control anyway ….so we might as well get away,” Bella said.
Most of the people news.com.au spoke with didn’t realise they were on the first flight to Fiji in more than 20 months, with many admitting they had simply jumped at the chance to get away.
Sofia Joseph, who was travelling with her 11-year-old son, said they were getting away for both a holiday and to see family.
“We’ve decided to take the chance and just go,” she said.
“We haven’t been on holidays since 2017 and since lockdown, I’ve worked so many hours, I work in the health sector so yeah it’s a well-deserved holiday.”
Ms Joseph said she had some fears about Omicron but their short trip meant she felt safe.
“Last night I was a bit hesitant about whether to go or not but we’re only going for a week, just to have a bit of relaxation, get away and then come back,” she said.
Ravneet Prasad, originally from Fiji, said he was desperate to see his family after not being able to go home for more than two years.
“I’m going to visit family and friends, I’ve missed them a lot,” he said.
“Hopefully we’ll be back before anything happens … this Omicron is a bit up in the air. We’ve planned for a week and a half but we haven’t paid our return fare, maybe we’ll come back early if we need.”
Australia became one of dozens of countries across the world to re-impose restrictions on international arrivals at the weekend after the variant of concern was identified in nine southern African nations.
All international arrivals not barred under new restrictions must isolate for 72 hours and await the results of a PCR test.
The federal government paused the arrival of foreign students, migrants and working holiday visa holders – meant to begin today – until December 15.
The travel bubble with South Korea and Japan was also put on pause for two weeks.
It was feared Fiji would take similar action against Australia, however the nation has already taken plenty of steps to ensure it stays Covid-safe.
More than 90 per cent of Fiji’s population is fully vaccinated against coronavirus and all arrivals are required to be fully vaccinated and have returned a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their flight.
Tourists are also required to stay in a Covid-approved resort, where they’ll then undergo a rapid antigen test for coronavirus within 48 hours of their arrival into Fiji.
Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO Andre Viljoen said the airline and the nation had been “working hard since March last year to prepare for this moment”.
“The safety of our customers and staff will always be our highest priority. Our entire workforce is fully vaccinated, our new Travel Ready program is dedicated to medical safety and wellness, and Fiji Airways is the only airline in the Australia-Pacific region to achieve a Skytrax 5-Star Covid Safety rating as well as the highest Hospital Grade ‘Diamond’ certification by APEX Health and Safety,” Mr Viljoen said.
It was feared Omicron would put a stop to Fiji reopening but the country’s national carrier said it had taken steps to ensure safety.
In a statement earlier this week, Fiji Airways said it was “working closely with the Fijian Ministry of Health and Medical Services to monitor and minimise the risk of the Omicron variant of Covid-19”.
“Fiji already has multiple layers of health and safety protection protocols from Covid-19 and its potential variants in its border-reopening framework which was designed to even deal with situations like this,” Fiji Airways said.
“Fiji Airways is committed to keeping travellers, citizens and staff safe as Fiji reopens its borders for tourists from travel partner countries.”
Fiji Airways said it had also added an additional measure at the airport – a declaration form for all travellers to declare where they have been in the past 14 days.
“Fiji Airways and Fiji’s tourism industry look forward to welcoming visitors and returning Fijians … after almost 20 months from 1st December,” the airline said.
“The return of tourists means a return of jobs in Fijian tourism and return of revenue flows crucial to the Fijian economy.”