7 May 2021

All hands on deck as Fiji prepares for worst in Covid-19 outbreak

9:14 pm on 7 May 2021

Fiji's government is preparing for a worst-case scenario as it deploys a multi-agency response to the country's worrying Covid-19 outbreak.

This week Fiji recorded its third Covid-19 death while health authorities scrambled to find the source of undetected transmission on the main island Viti Levu.

Covid-19 screening and testing underway in  Fiji.

Covid-19 screening and testing underway in Fiji. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

Fiji Health officials are continuing to try and take swabs and test as many people as possible in the Raiwai and Raiwaqa areas, outside of Suva.

A mobile team has been set up at a primary school to immediately allow officials to screen the community after cases of Covid-19 were recorded.

The government's response to the second wave of Covid-19 is being advised by a joint United Nations presence and supported financially by partner countries.

Since March 2020, 129 people in Fiji have been confirmed as being infected with the coronavirus, and three people have died, while 42 infected people are in government isolation facilities.

As the nation ends the third week of efforts to track the B1617 variant of Covid-19, Health Permanent Secretary Dr James Fong said government machinery had the necessary experience to put in place appropriate response measures and would escalate them based on accurate data gathered by the civil service.

"Essentially, what you have right now is an 'all of government' effort. We've got (Ministry of) Trade and Transport with MV Veivueti moving across (with supplies).

"We've got the tourism sector that will be supplying another boat to accommodate the people to sleep in while they are operating MV Veivueti. We've got the military and police force helping to set up all our FEMAT tents (and) all our screening protocols," Dr Fong said.

"There are various other ministries involved right from the National Disaster Management Office and Commissioners and all those government agencies who are involved in gathering data. They are doing the important task of pulling together data and ensuring that we got data that can govern or drive the response, as is appropriate."

"That initiative is done in consultation with our colleagues from the World Health Organisation (WHO) especially when it comes to data collection."

Dr James Fong.

Dr James Fong. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

The WHO's Representative to the South Pacific Dr Akeem Ali said that earlier in the pandemic it worked with the UN to help Fiji form an incident management team to help shape Fiji's response to Covid-19.

"We have a partner's pillar within that group that brings together our colleagues from Australia's DFAT from MFAT from New Zealand, we've got funding support from the European Union, from the UK and other donors who have been supporting the response and preparedness effort for the Pacific and Fiji as well," Dr. Ali said.

"So over the last few weeks that this has started, we've come together again to look at the needs in Fiji to look at areas where we need additional support beyond the gaps that have been identified and how to respond," he said, adding that the government was doing a lot of good work to be prepared for an escalation of the situation.

Dr Ali explained the group had been prepared and was at an "advantageous position to respond to this incident now" and had been doing everything possible to contain the virus so it wouldn't escalate.

Meanwhile, he urged Fijians to stay home, wear face masks and practice social distancing.

"The first death from local transmission being announced reminds us of the real grave impact that this virus can have on individuals and families, communities and the country at large.

"What that means for us, and the challenge to continue to provide essential health services and other services in the country is that we must really address this very serious public health emergency."

Emergency team tasked to respond

Dr Fong said the incident management team followed a methodology that was based on scenarios and escalatory patterns.

The IMT is made up of several pillars which would be activated to perform tasks to respond to specific scenarios as events escalate.

He said the government had a response and preparedness plan which necessary details of what was to be done with the necessary details to follow as the pandemic escalates through each scenario.

"Each of these functional pillars, they will all help us, not only help government but they will also help our partners to help us," Dr Fong said.


Food rations continue to be delivered to the containment areas hit buy flooding last week. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

An important tool within the government's response plan is its Fiji Emergency Medical Assistance Team, Dr Fong said.

Emergency Medical Teams are WHO-classified teams of health-care professionals who can be deployed in times of natural disasters, outbreaks and emergencies.

Fiji was the first country in the Pacific to have an Emergency Medical Team after it received accreditation in 2019.

Its team has been deployed to Lautoka to take on the medical needs of Fiji's second largest city after an outbreak within the hospital forced its closure earlier this week.

Fiji's team has gained experience in natural disasters.

"We have gone out during Cycle Ana. We started from Cyclone Harold and also cyclone Yasi. We used all that and we have actually solidified a lot of our protocols around it. We reorganized the whole of the health system to have greater outreach capacity," Dr Fong said.

"This was in preparation for the possibility of this particular scenario. Knowing that there is an outbreak. We need to have the ability to reach out to people rather than have people come into our facilities. The FEMAT (Fiji Emergency Medical Assistance Team) group is part of a bigger organisation."