14 Jun 2021

Covid-19 in Fiji: Growing pressure for nationwide lockdown

From Checkpoint, 5:13 pm on 14 June 2021

There is growing pressure on the Fijian government to urgently lock down the nation as Covid-19 spreads out of control. 


.. Photo: Fiji govt

Fiji announced a record 105 cases on Sunday day with the national tally since April now more than a thousand. But the government has resisted calls for a 28-day lockdown, saying it would destroy the country's economy. 

Fiji's opposition National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad said Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama's strategy for Covid-19 was leading the country to disaster.

Bainimarama has said shutting down completely would be too drastic and a decision he was not sure was "completely guaranteed would even work."

But Prasad said the government failed to learn from the experiences of other countries.

"The government and the prime minister have no idea as to what is required," Prasad said.

"We are not learning from the experiences of other countries - particularly New Zealand. Also the government here has failed miserably to have a comprehensive health and economic plan."

Prasad - who is also a professor of economics - doubted a lockdown would be economically damaging, saying the longer the government delays, the greater the economic pain would be.
"All the evidence shows that a quick and well planned lockdown, with the corresponding support to look after the people who would be in the lockdown, is the best way to get a better health outcome as well as a better economic outcome.
"This government does not seem to get that."

No caption

Biman Prasad. Photo: RNZI/Alex Perrottet

Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said the situation in Fiji was extremely worrying and he believed a national lockdown needed to be seriously considered.

"If they want to return to an elimination position, I think they need to act very decisively now. And that actually offers a much better route back to economic recovery than trying to suppress the virus and live with it, which hasn't really worked very well in the past," Baker said. 

It could be devastating if the outbreak spreaded from Fiji's main island - where it is currently centred, he said. 

"Given the huge amount of movement between islands… I think that's the next phase that will be very worrying because, obviously, the health care available in those other islands will be lower than on the main island," he said. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta said New Zealand wouldn't tell other countries - Fiji included - about how they should respond to Covid-19.

New Zealand's role was to assist and not infringe on any sovereign rights, she said.

"All countries are facing similar challenges. We are sharing as much information as we can so we can draw on each other's experience. 

"New Zealand has been leaned on also in terms of the approach that we've taken, but by and large, every country needs the willingness of its whole population to support a country wide response."

But New Zealand was providing financial support to Fiji, she said.  

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson said Fiji would receive $40 million as part of a Covid-19 economic recovery package to the Pacific.

"This funding will be used to help vulnerable households respond to Covid-19 economic shocks and move towards a longer term recovery."
Fiji had also been offered more than 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, MFAT said.