This week’s update focusses on health and provides an update on the good progress being made to implement phase 1 of the Vanuatu Tourism Crisis Response and Recovery Plan (TCRRP) for all 5 pillars. Phase 1 of the TCRRP was supported in June 2020 by the Vanuatu Council of Ministers which was developed jointly by Government and private sector stakeholders.

Vanuatu remains COVID-free along with only 11 other countries. There are now over 28 million cases confirmed around with world, with over 19 million patients recovered. In the Western Pacific there are 550,664 cases confirmed as of the 14th of September.

The Port Vila Central Hospital is equipped with testing kits and ventilators, and special facilities have been established to manage any COVID cases. This preparedness is currently being extended to the Northern Provincial Hospital, Santo. Improved community hygiene practices are now well-entrenched. The Ministry of Health (MOH) training team as well as the Health Technical Advisory Group (H-TAG) is planning a combined contact tracing and community tracing training in the coming weeks.

World Health Organization (WHO) has recently updated its disease transmission scenarios to scenario’s 1, 2a, 2b and 3. Vanuatu is in scenario 1 with no positive confirmed cases. Scenarios 2a and 2b are when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 and scenario 3 is when there is community transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

MOH and WHO, together with other health implementing partners are conducting planning meetings to prepare for table-top exercises and live simulation exercises to test the MOH protocols during scenario 2 and 3. This will likely involve the Provincial Government’s Technical Advisory Group, the Vanuatu Police Force’s Joint Planning and Operations Centre (JPOC), the SHEFA provincial health team, the Efate Area Council Administrators and Secretaries, Vila Central Hospital team, Port Vila Municipality; and health partners based in Port Vila and Efate. This extensive exercise will be coordinated to test the health processes and identify any gaps that need to be addressed if Vanuatu was to confirm its first cases of COVID-19. Table-top exercises and live simulation exercises have been successfully completed in Phase 1 of the repatriation and quarantine processes and allowed for MOH and WHO to enhance its prevention and preparedness activities. Health partners including donor partners and implementing partners have been instrumental in meeting MOH priorities during this pandemic.

Health messaging through its Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) team will continue through its various platforms with updates being available on the MOH website: covid19.gov.vu.

RCCE will also be raising community awareness during the live simulation exercise to be completed this week.

The MOH and WHO continue to monitor the pandemic’s track and identify high risk areas that need to be addressed in terms of passengers who may come back to Vanuatu from those areas. MOH and the COVID-19 Advisory Taskforce continue to update the National Health Recommendations before distribution through the MOH website to businesses, tourism industry operators, ministries, and the public at large.

With support from international partners, Vanuatu has repatriated over 2800 citizens and permanent residents.

This has been a valuable test of new systems and processes to safely manage international travel. Air Vanuatu continues to fly and has regular international cargo and repatriation flights scheduled for the remainder of 2020.

An Aviation Access Strategy is being developed to support resumption of international flights by all carriers including Air Vanuatu.

Many tourism businesses continue to operate, supported by a domestic tourism campaign and Government employment subsidies.

With support from health authorities, COVID Safe Business Operations Guidelines are being developed and all tourism businesses will be required to comply with these Guidelines as a condition of their tourism permit. A funded national training program to help businesses apply these Guidelines will commence in early October. A Tourism Industry Support program is being developed to support small and medium tourism businesses to adapt and grow in the post-COVID world.

The Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO) continues to maintain an active presence in core markets with the “We’ll Keep it Beautiful” and “Saving You a Spot” campaigns. Relationships are being developed with new trade partners.

A communication campaign building awareness of the Government’s tourism recovery efforts and, in partnership with health authorities, to reassure communities that tourism can resume safely. The program has started in Shefa and Tafea and will be rolled out nationally with a team visiting Penama this week and Malampa next week.

The Department of Tourism will continue to work on all 5 pillars in the preparation towards opening of borders to ensure Vanuatu is prepared in terms of health, product-readiness, and public awareness.

In the meantime, all operators, businesses, and travelers are encouraged to listen and follow the advice of MOH and WHO at all times and stay informed by reading this Wednesday weekly update.

Please send any questions on tourism recovery by email to tourism@vanuatu.gov.vu and we will do our best to answer your questions in next week’s update.

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