Vanuatu seasonal pickers at work on orchards

Vanuatu’s first seasonal workers to enter the country in a one-way travel bubble are on South Island farms.

The 154 workers arrived on a charter flight at Christchurch Airport from Port Vila earlier this month.

They have had to do a five-day isolation period at their workplace and complete Covid-19 tests, after bypassing the compulsory two-week stay in MIQ. The Government approved this to address orchard staff shortages.

The Vanuatu workers will pick fruit under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Vanuatu consul-general to New Zealand McKenzie Kalotiti said it marked a border milestone between the nations. The new travel bubble established a series of protocols in both countries to create the safe travel pathway.

‘‘It is the first stage in testing the systems we have put in place in Vanuatu and ensuring our citizens are prepared for travel. We are hopeful that this will lead to two-way travel between our countries. However, we need to take it step by step to ensure our preparations are sound.’’

Mr Kalotiti said the arriving workers were grateful to travel without having to do two weeks of MIQ isolation — a difficult concept that caused anxiety.

All the workers had at least one Covid-19 vaccination to be allowed to travel and will follow other safety measures.

Vanuatu remains free of community cases with 62% of people receiving their first jab in the capital of Port Vila and 40% are fully vaccinated.

The challenging process of vaccinating people in outlying islands began this month.

Mr Kalotiti said Vanuatu’s tourism industry was keen to start its road to recovery.

‘‘We see this as a small first step, but we need to make sure we are ready.’’

Further flights are expected to follow from Tonga and Samoa.

- By Tim Cronshaw

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