13 Jul 2021

Fiji battling misinformation amid Covid-19 crisis - UN official

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 13 July 2021

The United Nations representative in Fiji says antivaxxers present one of the country's biggest challenges.

A record number of 873 new cases was recorded in the latest 24-hour monitoring period, and none of the three latest people to die with the virus was vaccinated.

Sanaka Samarsinha told Checkpoint Fiji is also battling conspiracy theories.

"One of the key challenges that we face at the moment is the anti-vaccination campaign.

"Unfortunately there are certain groups that have spread that message across, and we need more people to come out and say it's really important that you get yourself vaccinated to keep yourself safe and keep your community safe, keep your family safe."

Samarsinha said the UN is trying to support politicians, church and community leaders to take the lead in encouraging people to get vaccinated.

"There is a great deal of concern. People are quite anxious because of the continuing trajectory of the pandemic, the rising cases, number of cases. Yesterday we broke yet another record with close to 900 cases in one day. 

"I think there is also some hope… Those of us who can are remaining cautiously optimistic because the vaccination campaign that the government has undertaken with the support of Australia and New Zealand and India, and the Covax facility is going very well at this point.

"We've got more than 60 percent of the eligible population with at least one jab and about 12 percent with two jabs," he said.

"In terms of infection rates it is concerning… I wouldn't say it's out of control because I think it's not just the infection rate. W e need to be mindful of the people who are ending up in hospital and unfortunately dying. 

"For now, the numbers that we've seen (although they're increasing) ending up in hospital, are relatively low when you compare it to other countries, especially where they've had the Delta variant.

"And the number of deaths that we've seen on a daily basis is also relatively low. 

"Of course, even a single death is too much.

"I wouldn't say it's out of control at this point in time, but clearly if we all don't take this very seriously, it could spin out of control. 

"I'm really pleased that we've had Australia and New Zealand deploy people here. We've got of course UN colleagues, especially from the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, who are augmenting their teams and bringing in supplies et cetera."

He said a field hospital has been set up, and if the number of hospitalisations remain essentially where they are, he thinks they will "weather the storm".

"We need to get to that degree of herd immunity that other countries have. So getting to 80 percent [with two jabs] is still a couple of months away, at least."

Samarsinha said he tries to stay off the streets as much as possible for health precautions.

"And that's the instruction I've given also to all my staff and my family.                 

"What I can see is that people are wearing their masks when they're going to shop or walking on the streets. Generally speaking, it seems that now there are less and less people are coming out onto the streets.

"I think people continue to be worried. Where it is concerning is not so much what you see on the streets and what you see in the supermarkets, but where people actually live.

"There are especially here around Suva a large number of people who live in settlements, in communities where people's homes and houses are very close to each other, and sometimes large numbers of extended family live under one roof.

"So even if you do have less people out on the streets, you could potentially in those areas have more people mingling with each other, and that was the case about three weeks ago.

"There are a couple of different messages to get out. I think one is to get the message out to get people to change behaviour.

"Initially this focus was on getting this message out through the medical teams led by their permanent secretary for health. And in recent times we've also had the Prime Minister come out and speak very forcefully.

"It's really important, especially here in the Pacific, that people hear their leaders speak out.

"It's really important that all of us who have any kind of leadership role speak out a lot more. I'm talking about people in politics across the board, in other parties, church leaders and community leaders.

"That's one of the things that we've tried to support the government to do, is to get sort of broad buy -in and get people voices out."