1 Jul 2021

Covid-19: Fiji strategises to slow the spread, rather than halt it

2:41 pm on 1 July 2021

Despite the alarming spread of a second wave of Covid-19 in Fiji, medical authorities say not imposing a full lockdown is in line with international practice and takes into account humanitarian considerations.

Image of flu COVID-19 virus cell. Coronavirus Covid 19 outbreak influenza background. Pandemic medical health risk. 3D illustration concept.

Photo: 123rf.com

In the last 75 days of the latest outbreak in the country, of the Delta variant, Fijian authorities have recorded 19 deaths from Covid-19, and 4348 cases.

A team from Australia and New Zealand are now in the country to guide Fiji's Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOH).

Health secretary James Fong announced new mitigation measures on Wednesday night which centre around increasing vaccination and treating severe cases of the virus, which is increasing.

Despite numerous calls for it, the Fijian government is not confident a lockdown will work in the country.

"At some point as the cases escalate, our focus will be on severe disease. That's what we call the mitigation phase. Around the world, it is accepted that you may be able to achieve mitigation phases, especially when you have a vaccine around the corner," Dr Fong said.

Dr James Fong.

Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services Dr James Fong. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

"If I was confident that I will lockdown and the numbers will stay down, then it would have been an easy ask. I have said before, I am not particularly confident that a lockdown will keep our numbers down.

"The reason is, the transmission is occurring at its highest rates within the difficult to reach communities that we have. If we were to pre-emptively go through these difficult to reach communities, we can keep the numbers from going too high, but we can not keep it from increasing.

"I don't believe we can sustain the benefits of a lockdown, not economically and not in terms of saying the virus will stop moving and that's our problem."

Dr Fong said many of those who are vulnerable to the virus are linked through places they congregate, such as places they go to for treatment.

"So, we do expect that they will become positive, they will have positives within those facilities."


.. Photo: Fiji govt

Authorities continue to battle non compliance to current restrictions of movement.

A new cluster has been identified in Lautoka city, which had been without Covid-19 cases for almost two months. The new cases are reported to have spread from a birthday party in the area.

"Lautoka and the rest of Fiji were never Covid free. It just means we did not report cases.

"There was always going to be a low level of community transmission based on the numbers that we had. The thing is that whenever you have a big gathering of people, it (cases) will explode."

The MOH has exhausted resources and time discouraging community gatherings in the hope of maintaining a low level spread until the benefits of its vaccination campaign begin to make a difference.

However, Dr Fong admits it has been difficult for Fijian authorities to deal with ongoing social gatherings given that many Fijian communities are close together and densely populated.


The team of New Zealand and Australian medical experts arriving in Fiji late last month. Photo: Supplied

Following advice from the medical assistance teams from New Zealand and Australia, the MOH will increase its protection of government teams working on community screening or at a field hospital, where they will sort between mild and severe patients.

"We will have to keep units functional by escalating our use of personal protective gear," he said.

"That means [workers will wear] a full cover-all and everything. So that if there is a Covid-19 case ... in the unit, all you do is decontaminate the unit. But the human beings working in the unit can still come back to work. And they get screened every two or three every four days to five days."

Despite increasing social unrest, food shortages and disruptions to social services, Dr Fong said mitigation was the science- backed response to the humanitarian aspect of the outbreak.

"If you ask the people in America, what did you do when you had the humanitarian crisis? They did exactly what we're doing right now. If you ask UK, what do you do when you're done with the retraces? They did exactly what we're doing right now."

"Everything we're doing is replicating whatever they've done. We're not doing anything different. Because that's the way that science has taught us, is the only thing we can do is mitigation.

"The virus has a way of coming in waves, it goes up, it comes down, there is an endpoint. In this case, it comes up, it comes down. We are hoping that the peak will be down together with a vaccine. But we are not doing anything different than what has been done all around the world."

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