Covid 19 coronavirus: United Nations grim warning as Fiji death toll rises

Fiji’s growing Covid-19 death toll includes a woman who died shortly after being taken to hospital in Suva.

A United Nations official has issued a grim warning that unless more Fijians take the risks of the Covid-19 pandemic “seriously”, many more deaths will occur.

At least 14 people have died in the island nation from Covid-19.

Twelve of those deaths have occurred since April.

The latest was a 34-year-old woman from Nadera who was rushed to hospital on Friday.

Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Health, Dr James Fong, has revealed the woman collapsed at her home before being rushed to Suva’s CWM Hospital.

By the time she had been admitted to the hospital’s emergency department, the woman had died.

Fong said the latest victim had not been vaccinated.

Two other deaths on Friday have been confirmed as Covid-19 cases. A further three deaths are being investigated as potentially due to the killer virus.

Fijian health authorities confirmed there had been more than 580 Covid-19 cases in the community between Wednesday and Friday.

Despite the alarming infection and death rate, Fiji has not gone into a nationwide lockdown.

Instead, since April, Fiji’s government has restricted movement between regions for only essential purposes. A curfew between 6pm and 4am has also been brought in for impacted areas.

Movement is allowed for authorised work, and to source food supplies and medicine.

“The tragic reality is that Fijians living in communities most vulnerable to the virus – including those in informal settlements – are also those most vulnerable to the socioeconomic catastrophe that a 24-hour lockdown for 28 days would bring about,” Fong said.

“So to say that many other countries have done a strict lockdown is not correct. Few, if any countries, have locked down in the same manner that Fiji has locked down.

“And in many other places in the world, measures similar to those have worked well to reduce the spread of the virus. Why has it worked? Two words: public compliance.”

Fong added on Friday if he believed a full lockdown for the island of Viti Levu was needed, he would call on Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to bring it in.

Over the past week, the average number of cases recorded daily has hit the 203 mark.

Fiji has now recorded 3063 cases of Covid-19 since the country recorded its first case in March 2020. That is almost 300 more cases than have been recorded in New Zealand over the same period.

As the number of cases and deaths grow, the United Nations’ resident co-ordinator for Fiji and the Pacific has declared not enough Fijians are taking the risks of Covid-19 seriously enough.

Sanaka Samarasinha told the Fiji Sun of his fears, after getting his second shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week.

“If the infection rates continue to rise as you can see, it will come to a point that the infrastructure in the country will not be able to respond to this crisis,” he said.

“We are not there yet and we can prevent it if only people take this virus seriously. We are very lucky that the number of serious cases due to Covid-19 is not as much as it could be, because this has not happened here, the level of complacency by some people is still there.”

Since the latest outbreak started in April, 142,087 Covid-19 tests had been completed in Fiji.

Testing and vaccination centres in Fiji have been in high demand in recent weeks.

But the struggle facing local authorities was highlighted on Friday when one centre had less than 200 vaccination shots on hand to administer to locals.

Fiji’s Minister for Employment Parveen Bala has said being vaccinated will become mandatory for those wanting to travel between regions, including for work.

Bala said once the country’s population of 889,953 had been vaccinated, steps such as containment areas and potential lockdowns would not be needed.

In April, the New Zealand Government gifted 250,000 courses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Fiji.

At the time, New Zealand’s Associate Minister of Health and Foreign Affairs Aupito William Sio said: “Fiji has worked hard to keep Covid-19 contained and New Zealand has been committed to supporting it in this.

“But this success has been hard won. Following recent community cases in both our countries, we see a vaccine as key to protecting our people from the virus, and for our economic and social recovery.”

This week, the New Zealand Government announced it provided $10 million to help with Fiji’s response to the pandemic.

A team of medical specialists from New Zealand and Australia had also been to Fiji to assist the response.

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