20 Apr 2021

Covid-19: Fiji rushes to contain and vaccinate

5:25 pm on 20 April 2021

By Lice Movono in Suva

Containment measures continue in Fiji today as the country tries to trace hundreds of people who may have contracted Covid-19 over the weekend.

A new batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrive in Fiji.

A new batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrive in Fiji. Photo: Fiji govt

The government instituted a lockdown of two towns, shut down schools and recreation facilities and cancelled major national events.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warned restrictions may escalate.

This follows confirmation that breaches at government-run quarantine facilities in the former tourist town of Nadi had led to Fiji's first community transmission in a year since Covid-19 hit the country.

As Fiji moves into a higher state of alert, Minister of Health Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete said the government would conduct a full investigation into how protocol breaches took place at the facilities.

"We must remember that these are the teams that have been working hard to keep us Covid-contained for about a year.

"Certainly, the investigations are ongoing and looking at ways we can improve our processes.

"The medical experts here have been looking at the audit over things that have happened and we can assure Fiji ... we intend this never to happen again."

The soldier, who had been part of border quarantine personnel, is thought to have contracted the virus from two Fiji nationals repatriated from India on April 10 who tested positive upon arrival.

Despite testing negative for Covid-19 on the same day, the soldier returned a positive result after a test conducted on 16 April.

It was not clear when but medical authorities confirmed that the soldier had close interaction with a woman who worked as a maid at the quarantine facility sometime between 10 and 17 April when his positive status became known.

That breach of protocol was not reported and so the woman was not tested before she was allowed into public spaces, as is required.

Announcing the incident on Monday, Bainimarama said the woman returned to work twice that week reportedly showing symptoms of the virus which went unreported.

Last weekend, the woman was reported to have travelled between Nadi and Lautoka to attend two days of funeral rites and was, on at least one occasion, in a mini-van full of mourners.

Three mourners from the same funeral had since travelled to Moturiki Island in Fiji's central province of Lomaiviti.

Medical authorities have also set up fever clinics in the woman's neighbourhood and they have extended the initiative to Moturiki. In addition, all those areas have been locked down.

Vaccination vs containment

The health authorities admit the work of addressing Covid-19 was now made more complicated as the first stage of a mass vaccination rollout had just concluded with seemingly good results.

Health Secretary Dr James Fong said a lot of the ministry's vaccination efforts had been in and around the quarantine area in Nadi.

More than 40,000 people had their first dose of the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine over a seven day period. On Monday, another 24,000 doses arrived from the Covax facility.

More than 40,000 people had their first dose of the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine over a seven day period.

More than 40,000 people had their first dose of the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine over a seven day period. Photo: Supplied

Now, 650,000 people over 18 were being targeted, Fong said.

"We have demonstrated an ability to deploy efficiently in the last deployment programme.

"We have to run two programmes now. We have got the vaccination programme plus the containment programme that we are doing.

"So we have to plan it and most of us agree that it's probably a two or three-day job when we can finish and then wait again for another batch."

The latest two Covid-19 cases had received their first dose of the vaccine, Fong said.

"We did prioritise the quarantine area. It's just that they've just received one of those, and one dose doesn't completely give you the protection that we need."

The AstraZeneca vaccinations needed to be spaced out by 12 weeks, according to government epidemiologist and head of the Fiji Centre for Disease Control Dr Aalisha SahuKhan.

She said studies had shown this would provide the maximum level of protection.

"We want to make sure that everyone that gets the vaccine has an opportunity to develop the most immunity that they can.

"If we reduce that time, we may actually diminish the effect of the vaccine," she said.