Suva, Fiji, 10 March 2021 – When the COVID-19 crisis hit French Polynesia, it was déjà vu for Vaeari Tauira who had spent some time as a customs auditor at Roissy Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris when the pandemic enveloped France. The opportunity helped her to gather invaluable insights into the crisis, which helped her in her work as a controller when she returned home.

Brought up by her mother and grandparents, Vaeari has always worked hard to achieve her dreams. With her husband Jay working for an airline company and being a mother to a six-year-old Tunui, Vaeira sees challenges as opportunities to further her dreams even during COVID-19.

Challenges of working during COVID-19

“I have had the opportunity to see the crisis from two different perspectives- being part of the operation and then as an officer supporting the operations,” the 35-year-old says.

“At the beginning of the crisis, I worked as a Customs auditor at Roissy Charles de Gaulle International airport, France. “I used to work 12 hours a day and checked hundreds of declarations, but the COVID pandemic brought our work to another level.

“Although we didn’t go to work as often as before, I felt much more exhausted when I came back home at the end of the day.

“We faced challenges because of the increasing number of declarations, constant changes of applicable Customs laws and regulations, intensive work required in an atmosphere of anxiety and stress.”

Every day she met hundreds of people and while she carried out her daily work, at the back of her mind she knew the risk of contracting the virus was real and possible. When she returned to French Polynesia, Vaeari was promoted to a Controller and is responsible for providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Customs officers.

“The experience in Paris helped me understand the difficulties and the risks as a frontline Customs officer,” she says. “I strive to ensure their safety so they can fulfill their tasks, under the best possible health conditions. We regularly remind them all rules of health and best practices while providing them with all necessary equipment as their protection is a constant concern.”

Lessons learned

“This crisis isn’t over yet but I’ve already learned some lessons from it,” she says. “I need to be flexible and have the ability to adapt to new tasks, establish closer teamwork and cooperation with my co-workers.

“Like most islands of the Pacific, French Polynesia only had few cases of infected people during the first wave of COVID-19, due to an early border shutdown.

“There were economic repercussions and the government decided to open the borders which led to the second wave of infection. Some of those infected were Customs officers. “However, it is paramount to add that none of them was infected at their workplace but in their private circles.

“As a consequence, they did not infect their co-workers. We are glad to report that there was no so-called “COVID cluster” in French Polynesia Customs unlike most other public administrations and private companies across Tahiti.”

French Polynesia is still working to contain the virus but Vaeira believes everyone must work together.

“We’ve got to have solidarity and empathy to continue to carry out our mission as a whole,” she says.

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