It's too early to say if the coronavirus will be an endemic disease in Fiji, the government has announced.
This comes amid 12 deaths and over 2,000 infections recorded since the latest outbreak started in April. Prior to this, there were two deaths and 70 cases in March 2020.
The Health Ministry confirmed one death and a record 308 new cases on Thursday, with 297 of them from the Lami-Suva-Nausori containment zone and 11 from Tramline Nadi.
Of the cases in the Lami-Suva-Nausori containment zone, 218 are from existing areas of interest: 153 from Qauia Settlement in Lami and 12 from new areas of interest that include Goodman Fielder, Gounder Shipping, Nausori Police Barracks, and St Giles Hospital.
Qauia, the fastest-growing cluster, was placed on lockdown from 4am Tuesday to 4am Thursday local time.
The latest infections take the total number of active cases in isolation to over 2,500.
"The remaining cases are contacts of known cases, or cases that were seen in screening clinics and were swabbed," Health Secretary James Fong said.
He said the Gounder Shipping crew had been isolated.
"In accordance with our shipping crew protocol, any unloading of freight will take place in areas that are clearly demarcated so there are no interactions between the crew and others, including people on the ground in Vanua Levu and the outer islands.
"Crew are not permitted to disembark in Vanua Levu nor in the islands and these protocols have been and will continue to be strictly enforced by the Police, my teams, and the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji."
Dr Fong said a 63-year-old patient who presented to the FEMAT field hospital on June 22, tested positive and was then referred to CWM Hospital had died.
"This death is being investigated by doctors at CWM Hospital to determine if it was caused by Covid-19."
Dr Fong said there are seven severe cases of the coronavirus at CWM Hospital.
He said two of the nine patients in severe condition reported on Wednesday were doing better and were no longer classified as severe.
He said a containment programme is underway for Qauia - the fastest growing cluster.
"This is not the first time we've instituted a targeted containment - we've relied on this tool many times through this outbreak and we have learned some important lessons about how we achieve success against this highly transmissible variant, particularly in how we limit transmission within containment zones."
Dr Fong said the global expert consensus was that Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic disease, one which continues to circulate indefinitely globally.
But he said it was too early to say if that would be the case in Fiji.
Dr Fong said regardless, the government's strategy remained the same.
Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has resisted calls for the government to impose a full lockdown of the main island Viti Levu where the outbreak is centred.
Bainimarama said a complete shutdown would cripple the economy.
The government is ramping up its vaccination rollout, instead.
But the leader of Fiji's opposition National Federation Party said the government's strategy is leading the country to disaster.
Biman Prasad, who is also a professor of economics, said the government hasn't learnt from the overseas experience with Covid-19.
"The government and the prime minister have no idea as to what is required.
"We are not learning from the experiences of other countries, particularly New Zealand, and also government here has failed miserably to have a comprehensive health and economic plan," Prasad said.
NZ and Australian assistance
New Zealand's Director-General of Health says solving the Covid-19 situation in Fiji will be very challenging.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield said it's not for him to say if Fiji will be able to get its outbreak under control.
He said New Zealand is working as fast as possible to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will then be delivered to Fiji.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Australia is helping with vaccine supply for Fiji in the interim.
Dr Fong said the health ministry is "helping people navigate the risks of the virus and protect its worst outcomes of severe disease and death until more of our population can be immunised against the virus."
The government needs to vaccinate 600,000 people or 60 percent of the population before borders can reopen and life returns to normal for Fijians, he added.
Nearly 300,000 people have received at least one dose of the required two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine while just over 18,000 people have got both jabs.
New Zealand and Australia have committed over one million doses of the vaccine with 250,000 doses already sent to Fiji.
Dr Fong said vaccinations provided a layer of protection that would allow for the gradual rollback of health restrictions.
But he said some Covid-safe measures would become a way of life for all people to protect lives and livelihoods in Fiji and around the world.
"The sooner we make those important adjustments as a society, the safer we will all be over the long-term.
"We need to be able to move for essential purposes without moving the virus with us.
"We must protect lives and livelihoods and be able to operate our economy in well-managed Covid-safe ways.
"We all want life to look more familiar than it does today."
A medical assistance team consisting Australian and New Zealand specialists are in Fiji to help contain the spread of the virus.
Dr Fong said the health teams needed the people's compliance and commitment to be vaccinated so that "tomorrow, we can reclaim the lives we knew.
"Keep the faith. That future will come. The sooner we walk towards it together, the sooner it can arrive for all of us."