Fiji will need years to fully recover from the COVID-19 crisis, Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said on Thursday.
Speaking to the leaders from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) in a zoom meeting, Bainimarama said global financing frameworks were already ill-suited to confronting the climate emergency, and COVID-19 further exposed Fiji’s inability to rapidly and sustainably respond to the complex realities felt across the Pacific region.
Fiji’s GDP was worth 5.6 billion United States dollars in 2019. As the backbone of the Fijian economy, tourism is reliant on a strong and sustainable national carrier as it is the most important industry with the biggest foreign exchange earner.
Fiji’s national carrier Fiji Airways has also extended the suspension of international flights to the end of July, and is in the process of reducing scheduled flights for August. A 20-percent permanent salary reduction has been implemented for all retained employees effective June 1, 2020.
In May, Fiji Airways said it has decided to lay off more than 700 staff members including cabin crew and 79 expatriate pilots. Fiji Airways has done these workforce adjustments as a consequence of the current and foreseeable operating environment as most hotel and resort workers remain unemployed as a result of this move.
The island nation has in recent years received more than 800,000 visitors per year. The Fijian government had also set a goal of developing the tourism industry to a 2.2-billion-Fijian dollar (1-billion-U.S. dollar) industry by 2021. But the number of foreign visitors to Fiji has dropped sharply over the past months of this year.
Bainimarama said tropical cyclone Harold that arrived on the heels of Fiji’s first COVID-19 case in April added to financial losses.
Pacific Small Island Developing States require additional economic stimulus packages of at least 15 percent of the value of GDP to maintain social and economic orders, he said, adding that with their traditional revenue sources gutted, the support of their development partners, including within the EU, and multilateral development banks, is critical.