Let me begin with a sincere thank you to the Government and people of Japan for the solidarity they have shown the Fijian people through this pandemic. Vinaka vakalevu.
Fiji is a COVID-Contained country. For more than 300 days we have defended our people from any local transmission of the virus. Today, we are one of the only places in the world where we can gather – as we do today – without risking anyone’s health. But that remarkable achievement is not without a cost.
With our borders closed, our hotels are empty of tourists, our fleet of planes is virtually grounded, and our Tourism Industry has come to a standstill. And Government revenues have been sapped at a time when we need unprecedented resources behind building our climate resilience.
I just returned from the Northern Division last week, where communities were ravaged by cyclones Yasa and Ana in the span of a month. These stronger storms, together with the rising seas, floods, and changing weather cycles, threaten our peoples’ lives, livelihoods, as well as years of our socio-economic progress. As we saw with Cyclone Ana, massive rains and the swollen rivers that follow can wash away progress as easily as eroding coastlines, making work like that of the Nadi River Project imperative.
But the best way to build resilience over the long-term is to bring our COVID-stricken economy fully back to life. This support from the Japanese Government today will allow us to further strengthen our COVID defences, particularly our public health systems. And it will equip our frontline workers as we prepare to step through the door of a post-pandemic future.
Of course, that key to that door is vaccines. And that is why we are advocating at every opportunity for equitable access to vaccines for our people. We cannot wait on the wealthy world’s recovery.
We must see our people protected alongside Americans, Australians, Kiwis, the Japanese and the rest of the developed world. Anything short of that would be a moral and medical failure.
I know this pandemic has been painful for the Japanese people, and you have our sincere sympathies for the loss of life you’ve experienced. On the long list of occasions lost to the coronavirus, the deferment of the 2020 Olympics was among the most sobering. But your plans to host the global games this summer in Tokyo give us all hope that life as we knew it is within reach. And we look forward to watching Team Fiji compete and our chance to defend our gold medal in rugby sevens.
Before then, of course, I look forward to the PALM 9 Meeting in June and to all the opportunities ahead to strengthen the friendship between our countries.
Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu. Arigatō-gozai-mashita.