28 Jul 2021

Health system under pressure as Covid-19 grips nation

7:08 pm on 28 July 2021

A former Fiji health minister says the nation's health system has collapsed under the pressure of the pandemic.

There have been 715 new cases in the last 24 hours and 11 people have died from Covid-19 this week.

Pressure is mounting on front-line workers amid Fiji's health crisis.

The nation now facing more than 18,500 active cases and more than 200 deaths.

Residents look on as police check people are wearing face masks in Suva,  as a worsening outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus Delta variant has overwhelmed the South Pacific nation's largest hospital.

Residents look on as police check people are wearing face masks in Suva, as a worsening outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus Delta variant has overwhelmed the South Pacific nation's largest hospital. Photo: AFP or licensors

Neil Sharma, who served as Health Minister between 2009 and 2014, under the FijiFirst government, warned Fiji is already crippled.

Dr Sharma said the bulk of people dying are at home.

"It is very disconcerting and downright depressing. Two of my patients who I attended to past away in the last 72 hours. Morgues are full, we have run out of body bags.

"The doctors and nurses are exhausted. There is great concern within the profession that they are not being cared for," he said.

An unvaccinated health worker is among the 11 people who had died this week.

"It's crucial all health workers consider getting vaccinated and understand the risks they if they don't," according to Dr Sharma.

"Health care workers need to consider getting vaccinated if they are going to deal with the community and be able to function fully.

When you have a huge volume of infection in the community and you're exposed to it then you are definitely taking a risk to yourself and your near and dear," he said.

Former Fiji Health Minister Dr Neil Sharma.

Former Fiji Health Minister Dr Neil Sharma. Photo: Wikipedia

Meanwhile, UNICEF's Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett, has been providing support to the Fijian government.

He said it's important people don't further overwhelm the health system and stay home if they're symptomatic.

UNICEF Pacific representative, Sheldon Yett.

UNICEF Pacific representative, Sheldon Yett. Photo: Twitter / Sheldon Yett

Although, misinformation is still an issue among some villages, the message is getting through for the majority.

Rules like 'no jab no job' are having an impact and now some schools are telling Year 13 students they need to be vaccinated to complete their education.

Jone, a resident in Fiji's Western District, said his village was being provided with some good advice on how to stay protected.

"I am feeling safe at the moment. we have been advised by our village head to be aware of social gatherings. Everyone needs to have a bottle of sanitiser, with masks on whenever you move around in the village," he said.

He earns $5.50 an hour at a hotel which caters for tourists.

Jone works 21 days in a row to help put food on the table for his family and some of his neighbours.

"Most of the villagers here, they can't even afford to get a phone. I just came back from town. I bought lots and lots of vegetables. Bundle of cabbage, I put one aside for me, one for another family and another with four tomatoes to go with that and one packet of noodles. With whatever little things you have, try and share."

He said the only way people can cope is by communities supporting one another.

Despite calls for a lockdown, the Fiji government said it would not enforce a complete shutdown because it would only cripple the economy and impact Fijian jobs.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is adamant on focusing on vaccinations and keeping the economy afloat, instead.

His New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, says she cannot influence Fiji's response - but can only offer support.

About 500,000 people or 78 percent of the target population have received their first dose of the vaccine, while almost 112,000 (19 percent) have got both jabs.

Fiji's daily average test positivity is now at 26.3 percent - the World Health Organisation (WHO) threshold is five percent.