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Days before Fiji was due to open, the world discovered Omicron. The island paradise welcomed tourists anyway – ABC News

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Just when it seems safe to finally book that trip, COVID comes along and delivers a fresh blow.
When the Omicron variant emerged over the weekend, travel plans were disrupted, changes were quickly made to Australia's border, and anyone who was about to confirm tickets to a faraway place might have had a second thought. 
For nearly two years, a small island nation and neighbour to Australia has been hanging on these moments. 
Fiji has pushed to get its vaccination rate to more than 90 per cent and has come up with a model for international travel that requires travellers to stay in the same place for a few days, but also feels nothing like quarantine. 
A lot was riding on December 1, when the first international flights were due to touch down in Nadi.
Then, just a few days beforehand, the Omicron variant appeared. 
And while individual plans being disrupted is one thing, what they mean collectively to an entire country is something else.
The decision was made to proceed.  
Fiji is selling its model for travel as quarantine-free, and for the most part it is. 
There are a range of conditions you have to meet to board the plane, including things travellers are getting used to such as pre-flight PCR tests and having an international vaccine certificate. 
But it's what happens once you arrive that sets Fiji apart. 
The deal is, international arrivals have to spend their first three nights in accommodation that has been accredited under a program called the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC). 
At the 48-hour mark, there will be a rapid test, and after returning a negative result, visitors are free to leave the resort area and head further afield. 
But from the moment visitors land, they are not restricted as they have been in traditional hotel quarantine models. 
Approved transfer companies can move visitors between the airport and their resorts, then between resorts or to day trips and activities that are also approved by the CFC system. 
For 48 hours, travellers have to stay within the CFC zone, but that covers countless resorts, restaurants, bars, pools, a long strip of beach and the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. 
Inside the resort people are asked to use Fiji's COVID check-in app and wear masks in some areas.
Hotels will be able to take care of the rapid tests and some also have onsite PCR labs, which Australian travellers will need to visit in order to board a plane home.    
Chief executive of Tourism Fiji Brent Hill said the idea was to provide a space where travellers know they will be taken care of.   
"We want people to feel really safe and secure, but at the same time we want them to enjoy [themselves], and perhaps get away from all the craziness that's in our world, and just have an enjoyable Fijian holiday," he said. 
News of the Omicron variant was the first test in Fiji's experiment. 
Fijian Attorney-General and Minister for the Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told the ABC the government was confident in the moves it had made to increase restrictions for nationals arriving from red-list countries. 
"It's still early days, but in the meantime we believe we have enough of a safety net to ensure it doesn't creep into Fiji, or if it does that we will be able to manage it," he said. 
On Thursday, Fiji's Secretary for Health Dr James Fong confirmed there were people already in Fiji's quarantine system who had returned from African nations and tested positive for COVID, but it will be some time before genomic sequencing can confirm if these cases are the Omicron variant. 
Also on Thursday, planes from Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and San Francisco delivered more tourists to Fiji.  
The country has a long list of "travel partner countries" — nations whose fully vaccinated citizens are invited to holiday in Fiji. 
The question for travellers is whether the arrangements in Fiji help to reduce the uncertainty that comes with booking travel now.   
There is no doubt that travel of any kind has been made more difficult by COVID. 
But with so many Australians spending time locked out of the country, away from friends and family on the other side of international or state borders and lockdowns that come hard and fast, how much desire will there be to risk further complications by travelling for the fun of it? 
Tourism expert, senior lecturer in development studies at Massey University and Fijian native Dr Apisalome Movono said there was a "push and pull" scenario at play. 
"The pull factor is that Fiji is open and very few destinations in the Pacific, if any, are open at the moment, so that's a major contributor to people coming. They are able to," he said. 
"And it's also that push. We've been through 22 months of continuous lockdowns, uncertainties, not being able to travel, unwind, reinvigorate."
Fiji is expecting 75,000 tourists to arrive over the next two months. 
Dr Movono said the ultimate test would be whether Fiji's tourism industry can achieve "some form of normalcy". 
"The success of this experiment hinges on Fiji's ability to sustain the smiles, the happiness and the promise of a safe and good holiday," he said.  
"It will require some tweaking, building resilience into the system for different types of shocks.
"Fiji, we are going all out now to re-open, but there are many what-ifs." 
For the people of Fiji, there is an immediate economic need to bring tens of thousands of hospitality and tourism staff back to work.
But there have been some concerns raised by the opposition and community groups about the health risks to the population, with much still to be learnt about Omicron. 
Dr Movono said the situation had "high stakes".  
"Fiji was quite intent on opening up, tourism is too important for us not to," he said. 
"Let's see how this experiment pans out."
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