“Let’s all work together to protect
our nation” Call from VCCI President
upon release of urgent report
by VCCI President, Mr. Antoine Boudier
Vanuatu is one of just 16 nations or territories in the world to have no reported COVID-19 community cases. Two of these nations – Turkmenistan and North Korea – have highly questionable data. The remaining 14 nations are all small island states. These 14 nations’ combined population equates to just 0.02% of the global population. Our position is both extremely privileged and risky. We must not be complacent.
So far Vanuatu has had two lines of defense against COVID. The first line of defense has been at Vanuatu’s border, as the Government stopped most commercial flights and introduced quarantine. The second line of defense has been our neighbor’s borders, as they have also kept COVID out from their countries for much of the pandemic. This has meant that only three out of 6,856 arrivals have had COVID, which our quarantine program caught and managed. It is clear that this second line of defense has offered immense protection for Vanuatu. This has now been breached however as the delta variant rips through Australia, Fiji, and New Caledonia, and as New Zealand continues its own attempts to suppress the virus. The virus is now closer than ever before to reaching Vanuatu.
The VCCI is currently undertaking an analysis looking at the current state of the business community. The full findings will be released next month, but it is already clear that the economic impact of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak in the face of low vaccination coverage would be devastating. This is not considering the health or social impacts either. It is also clear that the nation as a whole is simply not ready for this.
Whilst we have not yet had the shock caused by an outbreak, the economy remains in a highly fragile condition. Many businesses are seeing their income continue to decline just as the cost of doing business is ramping up. Business owners are desperate to survive and to keep their staff employed, but they need support to do so. We need the stimulus package to be rolled out, and we must begin a conversation about what economic support can be provided next year – at least until the borders reopen.
Thankfully however we have a clear solution to get out of this crisis – the vaccines. They are safe, secure, and effective. The vaccines may not be a magic bullet, but there is no doubt that they will massively reduce the impact when the virus does come here. COVID-19 will come here – this is inevitable. As a nation we are therefore in a race to get enough of our population vaccinated before the virus comes. The Ministry of Health have done an excellent job so far, but with a program of this importance we must always be striving to do more and to do it faster. Other countries’ experiences are that vaccine take-up ramps up once COVID comes – this is too late. Let’s learn from them and get the population vaccinated BEFORE COVID comes.
To that end, we are suggesting four simple and clear actions to be taken:
1.Ensure that the Ministry of Health has access to all necessary resources to process and quarantine people safely.
2.All areas of society to do whatever possible to drastically accelerate the vaccination programme. The VCCI will be ramping up its own nationwide communication campaign and we are providing support to SHEFA Health for their rollout.
3.The Government to immediately accelerate the roll-out of the stimulus package. This is now severely delayed and is desperately needed to ensure economic survival
4.Establish a public-private taskforce responsible for preparing an economic and social response to a widespread COVID-19 outbreak.
Looking beyond these immediate actions, we must then proactively work together to come up with a roadmap out of this COVID crisis – including laying the foundations for increasing investment, increasing jobs and income opportunities, and increasing market opportunities for local products. This will all take strong leadership and decisive action. The full economic report which the VCCI is preparing will provide more context, but the private sector simply needs to know what the plan is for getting out of this.
To finish on a positive note, there is still the potential for Vanuatu to achieve truly astonishing outcomes. If we get to a very high level of vaccination before COVID inevitably comes, we can avoid the worst of the health disaster. If support can be provided to the businesses most in need, and if we can safely reopen our borders before it is too late, then we can avoid the worst of the economic disaster. Let’s all work together to achieve this goal.