The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) acknowledges the Solomon Islands Government and its relevant bodies for taking into consideration requests from businesses in regards to travel restrictions and the impacts.

Following the Gazette on 12 May 2020, the Chamber is now involved in the exempting of shipping vessels from mandated quarantine periods which currently depends on the COVID-19 status of their last port of call.

The SICCI Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was approved by the COVID-19 Oversight Committee as a member of the Shipping Exemption Committee.

“From the discussions that SICCI is part of, the considerations that weigh heavily on this exemption committee are where these ships originate from, the ports they come through enroute to Solomon Islands, the completeness of their documentation such as log of temperature checks, any personnel changes or shore leave, and the nature of the cargo they are carrying,” SICCI CEO, Ms Atenasi Ata, said.

To date, the Chamber has been raising and relaying to the National COVID-19 Oversight Committee the impacts of the travel restrictions currently in place as it affects movement of goods and supplies into the country.

SICCI also acknowledges the business community, especially from its membership, for their feedbacks that informs SICCI positions.

The SICCI CEO further clarifies: "There is a new shipping protocol 3.0 developed under Gazette No. 61 which states how the Oversight Committee, through its Shipping Exemption Committee considers requests for exemptions from mandatory quarantine periods."

Ms Ata confirms that the new shipping protocol is clear that all shipping vessels will be quarantined in isolation before clearance and berthing.

The clearance depends on an assessment of documents showing where the ship originated from and its ports of call enroute to Solomon Islands.

“All ships so far have also submitted as part of their paperwork, the measures that shipping line owners are implementing such as steps to minimise person-to-person contact maybe maximising mechanisation of their onloading and offloading of cargo, and sanitisation/sterilisation practices.

"From our observation too, the shipping lines are very conscientious with their COVID-19 protocols, and it is encouraging as they seem to be doing their bit to continue carrying our goods and supplies, albeit at slower pace than before the global pandemic,” Ms Ata said.

SICCI understands that the latest shipping protocol now defines countries into three tiers with attached quarantine periods.

If the ship originates from a Tier 1 country, the mandatory fourteen (14) days quarantine period can be exempted to five (5) days. If coming from a Tier 2 country, the mandatory quarantine period can be lessened to nine (9) days. However, if coming from a port in a Tier 3 country, the 14-days isolation period as quarantine stands.

Some of the countries in Tier 3 countries include hot-spots such as China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. Our Pacific neighbours, PNG, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Tonga, Nauru and Kiribati are in Tier 1, for comparison. Australia and New Zealand are in Tier 2.

Ms Ata continues: "Given our in-country new testing capability for COVID-19, SICCI is of the view that quarantine time for both shipping vessels and incoming passengers should now be revisited and reduced with commensurate ramping up of other mitigating measures.”

SICCI, as the peak body representing private sector, is grateful for the COVDI-19 testing machines and supporting advice from China and from partners New Zealand and Australia which has meant Solomon Islands now have in country testing capabilities, and see that as a crucial step to gradually reduce both measures as they are impacting very heavily on the private sector.

“For passenger travel restrictions, the days in quarantine are affecting the mobilisation of much needed personnel both for industry and particularly big infrastructure projects, and of course there is an impact on our families, and friends and plans we have had to suspend because of the restrictions.

"For trade of goods and supplies, because of the quarantine periods imposed on shipping vessels - all justified due to our COVID-19 testing and response systems - unfortunately it has meant that shipping lines passed on additional costs incurred due to complying with our restrictions which are rare in other destinations. The end effect is that goods and supplies are becoming dearer,” the SICCI CEO said.

"The Government has had ample learning opportunities and very excellent responses from development partners of goods and supplies to boost its COVID-19 response, and therefore can take other mitigating measures not previously available to it, and lessen this chokehold on our economy,” she added.

Source: SICCI