Fiji denies tourist’s claims of covid ‘nightmare’ mistreatment by locals

Fiji "open for happiness" ... border reopened for tourists on December 1. Image: Lice Movono/RNZ Pacific

By Christine Rovoi, RNZ Pacific journalist

The Australian government is assisting its citizens stranded in Fiji who also claimed they were mistreated by locals — claims rejects by tourism authorities — after testing positive to covid-19 when they arrived in the country on Boxing Day.

The move follows claims by an Australian family that they were locked in their hotel rooms and ignored by the staff soon after returning positive results for the coronavirus.

Fiji reopened its borders to international travellers on December 1 and that 30,000 visitors had arrived in the country since.

Tourism Fiji said about 75,000 people had booked to stay in hotels and resorts across the country through to the end of January.

Australia is Fiji’s largest tourism market with more than 40 percent of the visitors from Down Under.

In a report, dated 4 January 2022 and aired on Australia’s Channel 7 network, Jacqueline Hoy claimed that what was supposed to be a dream holiday in Fiji had quickly turned into a nightmare for her family.

Hoy said their ordeal began when her brother tested positive for covid-19 soon after the family arrived at Nadi Airport from Sydney on December 26.

Claim family was separated
She also claimed her family was separated and support was scarce.

Hoy said they were locked in their hotel rooms and did not get any food for three days — with calls for help to the hotel staff ignored.

“It is an absolute nightmare,” Hoy told the network. “On arrival at the hotel to check-in, there was no signage, no hand sanitiser and we waited four hours at the reception to check into our room.

“We didn’t get access to our rooms until 11.30pm. We were forced to sign a consent form which basically waived all our rights in relation to covid-19, access to our reports and medical records.

“I haven’t seen any medical reports, I’ve only been told I’m covid positive and I can’t leave my room in 10 days.

“We’ve been told that if any of our family members are seen together, coercing in the corridors — those who are negative will have to stay an extra seven days.”

The family is working with the Australian High Commission in Suva to get them home.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it was providing consular assistance, in accordance with the Consular Service Charter, to the family.

“Due to privacy obligations we are unable to provide further information,” the DFAT said in a statement.

Tourism Fiji CEO Brent Hill
Tourism Fiji chief executive officer Brent Hill … rejected “nightmare” claims, saying this is not the full story. Image: RNZ Pacific/Michelle Cheer/Tourism Fiji

Tourism Fiji refutes tourist’s claims
Tourism Fiji chief executive officer Brent Hill has rejected Hoy’s claims saying this is not the full story.

Hill did not respond to a request for comment from RNZ Pacific but he told local media that the stakeholders in Fiji’s tourism industry took these allegations seriously and were facilitating both sides of the dispute.

The hotel in question on the popular Coral Coast strip has refused to comment.

Fiji’s Hotel and Tourism Association said its investigation had also found that Hoy had made false claims.

The association’s chief executive, Fantasha Lockington, said 30,000 visitors had already visited Fiji over the last five weeks and the majority of them had a wonderful experience.

Both Tourism Fiji and FHTA are expected to release a joint statement soon.

Fiji is currently battling a third wave of the coronavirus with a total of 3009 active cases in isolation and the death toll at 704.

Fiji Health Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete
Fiji Health Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete … “I’ve seen her talking and certainly she does not look too unwell.” Image: RNZ Pacific/Fiji govt

Fiji’s Health Ministry said there were 1555 covid-19 cases recorded since January 1 with 372 of them confirmed on Wednesday.

Health Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete said the Australian woman’s claims of mistreatment by the locals were concerning.

Dr Waqainabete said he had viewed the Channel 7 report, adding that the safety of all visitors to Fiji was important.

“I’ve seen her talking and certainly she does not look too unwell — so we are thankful for that. Certainly, as I’ve alluded to the fact that she is being able to be fully vaccinated also supports her in that regard.

“But her health and safety is very important. That is something that we’ve been working on with Tourism Fiji and the Fiji Hoteliers Association.”

Dr Waqainabete said he had visited some of the hotels and resorts to check their standard operating procedures before Fiji’s borders reopened.

There are occasions where some challenges would be faced, he said.

“I am also grateful that there have been thousands and thousands of visitors that have come through to Fiji safely and have gone back home safely. And that is a testament to the processes that we have in place.”

International travellers arrive at Nadi Airport.
International travellers arrive at Nadi Airport. Image: RNZ Pacific/Facebook/Fiji govt

Be prepared for challenges, Australians told
Covid-19 remains an ongoing global health risk, and Australians who travel overseas during the pandemic have been urged to be aware of the continued challenges associated with international travel.

A government travel advisory states that Australians travelling overseas must be fully prepared, to closely monitor the covid-19 situation in their intended travel destinations and arrange suitable travel insurance.

They are also encouraged to consult the Smartraveller website for the latest travel advice and the Global Covid-19 Health Advisory.

Travel advice in relation to Fiji is available at Fiji Travel Advice & Safety/Smartraveller.

Australians have also been told that the reopening of their borders is not a return to the pre covid-19 international travel environment.

“All travellers need to be aware of risks and take care regardless of where they travel,” a government travel advisory stated.

“This includes having sufficient funds to meet their travel needs and ensuring they have travel insurance and fully understand the details of their insurance, especially regarding contracting covid-19.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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