Fears mount as Fiji's daily virus numbers hit record

Fiji has transformed its largest hospital into an emergency Covid-only facility, as the country reported a record number of new cases and a surge in the quick-spreading Delta variant, first identified in India. 

The South Pacific island nation went a full year without recording any new community cases until April, when it was hit by a second wave of infections.

Since then, numbers have steadily increased, with 83 new cases announced late Sunday, bringing the total to 489 active infections. The surge has posed a major challenge to Fiji’s under-developed health care system.

Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong said 11 of the new cases were from unknown sources, raising the prospect of widespread community transmission in the nation of almost 930,000. 

“We expect more days of high numbers of confirmed cases. We sadly expect more hospitalisations as more severe cases of the disease develop,” Fong said.

According to Fong, a major infection cluster was centred on Suva’s Colonial War Memorial Hospital, so it was being cordoned off and will treat only Covid-19 patients.

He said a field hospital was being set up nearby for the non-coronavirus patients.

The second wave began on April 17 after two Fijian nationals returning from India via Singapore interacted with a soldier at a local quarantine facility, who then entered the local community.

The Fijian government has favoured ramping up vaccination efforts instead of imposing a nationwide lockdown.

The country had a pre-pandemic poverty rate of 30 percent and that is believed to have risen sharply since borders closed and tourism halted.

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

Fiji has so far administered 206,658 first doses and 4,599 second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine nationwide.

However, a major obstacle to the rollout has been misinformation spread online, which the government has struggled to counter despite warnings from Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama that police will crack down.

Outlandish claims continue to gain traction, with the health department on Monday forced to debunk a video that purportedly showed the Covid-19 vaccine can make people magnetic.

Civil disobedience has also become an issue as people flout curfews and localised lockdowns.

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.

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