How is the situation in your city/ country?
As of today, May 2022, we’re having Covid cases (Omicron variant) in some of the islands but many remain Covid free. In my island of Santo, we are now in Alert Level 2, meaning no more lockdown or curfew, masks havs to be wore in crowded areas, every business can operate but has to validate their Covid protocols with Ministry of Health. And most important, our borders are going to open in July 2022 with conditions.
How did the atmosphere in your country change since the pandemic started?
When the world pandemic started in March 2020, Vanuatu closed its borders. No more tourists welcomed and repatriation for citizens and residents was only allowed, under strict conditions. Many tourism businesses closed, people lost their job and went to work as Seasonal workers in Australia or New Zealand. But we were Covid free. Two weeks after the pandemic started, Santo and other northern islands of Vanuatu have been hit by a Category 5 Cyclone, destroying and damaging many households and villages. The Covid pandemic was far from our minds as we were facing the huge losses. International help was difficult to get because of the Covid pandemic and it’s been a really hard time to face for the people of theses islands. As of today, some people are still rebuilding, some schools are still broken.
How are you and your family?
We’re all fine.
What is the biggest challenge for you during the crisis?
I have a Lodge in the island of Santo, so the cancellation of all our bookings for 2020 was a schock. I had to work hard to keep the Lodge opened focusing on domestic tourism, which was not our target before. We adapted our offers, lowering prices and trying to be attractive. Domestic tourism in Vanuatu is not something big neither, as the country is made of 83 islands, the cost of travelling between the islands is high.
When did you realize how serious the situation is?
When every country in the world started to lockdown cities then Vanautu closed their borders with no information about a reopening soon and when I saw all our bookings cancelled in few days.
How did your government react to the crisis? Which measures/restrictions were taken first?
They reacted very strictly to protect the people. They closed the borders and only allowed repatriation flights for citizens and residents few month later under strict condiitons and strict quarantine, still until today.
Are you satisfied with the measures of your government? What was good/bad?
In a way, yes. I think that closing the borders for so long allowed us to only have the variant Omicron to enter the country in February this year, being way more manageable for the Health Department. I just hope that these 2 years also allowed them to be ready for the border opening.
What would you like to say to your government?
Which sentence of a virologist/politician did you memorize the most?
Do you know anybody who was infected with COVID-19 or even died?
Yes, some of my friends in France had Covid and I’ve known many people here in Vanuatu who caught it too.
Have you already done a Coronavirus test or have you been in quarantine?
Are you afraid of getting infected with the Coronavirus?
How long is/was your lockdown and what was allowed/what wasn´t?
When closing their borders in March 2020, Vanuatu has been Covid free for two years, allowing us to keep living a “normal” life. Then we had our first Covid outbreak with the Omicron variant in February 2022. The capital island has been put in lockdown for 3 weeks, and when a week after we had Covid cases in our island of Santo, we started a lockdown that last 3 weeks. During the lockdown all domestic flights were cancelled and only essential businesses could operate under very strict restrictions. Limited number of people allowed in cars/transports/shops, mask mandatory and road blocks to control. When they lifted the lockdown, a curfew from 6pm to 6am was installed and other businesses than the essential ones could also operate but they had to validate their safety protocols with Health Department before. Domestic flights between Santo and the capital started again at the end of April 2022, but many islands of the country still don´t have any connection flights with both our islands as they remain Covid free. Since the beginning of May 2022, for both our islands, curfew has been lifted and mask is not mandatory outside.
Did you spend the lockdown time with somebody and what did you do during this time?
I was at my Lodge during the lockdown with my partner. He was still working as he has an essentail business. I’ve been working at the Lodge and my house. Luckily I live by the beach so, I could go swimming or fishing and again it was a very short lockdown.
What did you miss the most during the lockdown? What helped you?
For this short time, I missed seeing people. What for me was more difficult is not the lockdown in itself, it is the borders being closed for so long. We were Covid free living on a tropical island, but many people left the island, my business got reduced at its minimum and I struggled to keep it opened. I couldn’t leave the country to visit my family in France as there were lots of uncertainties as how to come back to Vanuatu after. It sometimes felt like being in a golden cage.
How did your work situation change since the pandemic started (shorter hours, working from home, etc.)
I closed the business for the first three months, not only because of the pandemic but because of the Category 5 cyclone that hit our island. I reduced my staff hours to the minimum, changed my prices and advertised a lot to focus on domestic tourism. Thanks to all our efforts, the Tourism Office efforts, the Government grants, we managed to keep the Lodge opened, having guests on weekends mostly.
How did your social life (relationship/friendships/dating) change due to the Corona crisis?
I had a big change of life and relationship in 2020. I don’t know if it’s directly related to the Covid crisis as we were Covid free in Vanuatu. But I think that in a way, this world crisis by closing our borders, allowed me to slow down and reflect on my life, on what was making me happy or unhappy, what I wanted or was hoping for, what felt right and what wasn’t. And I created the change to give the opportunity for a happier life, which I have now.
What impact has the Corona crisis on your financial situation?
It had a huge impact as I work in tourism and for the past two years, I struggled to keep the business opened, not making benefits but being able to maintain it at least. I’m really looking forward to the border opening in July 2022.
Social distancing: How does your daily life look like at the moment?
Not a big change, we are just being more careful.
Who are to your opinion the heroes of this crisis?
Every person working in the health system.
What did the crisis show you?
The fragility of what we take for granted in life.
What will you appreciate more after the crisis?
Which images will you never forget?
Which stories/incidents/experiences touched/shattered you the most?
What are you afraid of right now?
I’d say that I worry about Vanuatu Government changing their decision about the border opening this year.
What gives you hope?
The border opening of our country and the reduced numbers of Covid cases and the variants being less deadly in the world.
Are you planning to travel within the next months?
I’m starting to think about travelling to France to visit my family. I could not see them almost three years now. But I’m waiting to see Vanuatu border opening first.
Would you get yourself vaccinated or have you already been vaccinated against COVID-19?
I’m already vaccinated and had my first booster.
What can we all learn from this crisis?
To not take for granted what we think is, our comfort, habits and freedom. The importance of real relationships. The importance of locally sourced products and being more self sufficient. That we are only humans after all, and that in a finger snap, this planet can learn us a big lesson about the fragility of life … by a virus, pandemic or many other extreme events that happen around the world. During this crisis, being hit by a Category 5 Cyclone was the most scary thing I faced in my life and made me feel very little and powerless.
If you could give 2020 a headline, what would it be?
The year for a mindset change.