Covid explodes in island nation on Australia's doorstep

·News Reporter
·3-min read

The highly-infectious Delta Covid-19 variant, which is partly fuelling Melbourne's latest outbreak, is also wreaking havoc in nearby Fiji.

After initial success in containing the virus during the first year of the pandemic, the Pacific nation is now struggling amid a surge in cases, registering a record 83 on Sunday. There were a further 64 announced on Monday. 

Fiji only recorded 70 cases before April this year. It has now recorded 751.

Complicating matters, three cases in the outbreak have been three employees at the nation's Covid-19 management team, sending the Ministry of Health into chaos last week. 

Among the people forced to isolate was Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services, Dr James Fong, who is leading the Covid response.

Fiji has yet to implement a nationwide lockdown despite the rise in cases. Source: Getty
Fiji has yet to implement a nationwide lockdown despite the rise in cases. Source: Getty

Mr Fong said 11 of Sunday's cases were from unknown sources, raising the prospect of widespread community transmission in the nation of almost 930,000.

While the Fijian government initially responded with a snap lockdown in its two major cities Suva and Nausori, measures which were dubbed the world's strictest, widespread lockdown measures have not been ongoing.

Health authorities have instead opted for locking down specific containment zones such as small communities, not too dissimilar to the Victorian government's move at the start of Melbourne's daunting second wave to 'ring-fence' several public housing towers. 

Mick Beddoes, Fiji's former opposition leader, says he fears the outbreak is only going to get worse and stricter measures are needed.

"[The Fiji government] is putting the dollar value ahead of the lives of our citizens," Mr Beddoes told the ABC.

Fiji's cases skyrocketed in May. Source: Worldometers
Fiji's cases skyrocketed in May. Source: Worldometers

"There's been a spike and it's moving... So obviously it's going to get worse, and it is a matter of concern."

Hospitalisations are on the rise, leading to one of Suva's major hospitals being converted to a Covid-19 facility. As the cases continue to rise, it is expected that it's only a matter of time until the current death toll, standing at four, follows suit.

The Opposition has called on the government to ramp up compliance checks, fearing people are not adhering to measures implemented.

Mr Fong said he was disturbed to find a recent funeral at a village near Nadi was attended by 100 people, rather than the 10 allowed under government restrictions.

"That reckless gathering could potentially result in another super-spreader event... if we don't respect those rules, we will sadly have more of our loved ones to bury," he said.

Vaccine push favoured over nationwide lockdown

The government hopes a vaccine push will help curtail the spread of the virus, with more than 20 per cent of Fijians receiving their first dose. Only 4,599 people have received their second dose.

The nation is rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine. While it is effective against the Delta variant, its effectiveness is understood to be lower than Pfizer after two jabs.

Australia will provide one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Fiji, while New Zealand has pledged 500,000.

The Morrison government says 50,000 of those will be delivered this week, adding to the 130,000 already delivered.

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