COVID 19 spirals out of control in Fiji

Confusion and absence of political leadership fuel mistrust in vaccine and Government

3rd July, 2021

COVID 19 spirals out of control in Fiji

By Ruci Farrell

Vaccinators go into overdrive to ensure people are protected against COVID 19. Photo:

Fiji families living in New Zealand are desperately worried for their families in Fiji as COVID 19 weaves its silent and merciless way across the country.

All they can do is watch from afar and hope medical help reaches their families before the deadly Delta variant does.

A 72-year-old unvaccinated woman from Kinoya who endured five days of severe respiratory distress at home is Fiji’s latest COVID fatality. She collapsed and died the day she went to hospital taking the death toll to 25.

Civil societies say the pandemic is spiralling out of control and it is too late for lockdowns.

“I don’t believe we’ve seen the worst of COVID 19 that’s what people are telling us,” says Shamima Ali from the CSO COVID Response Alliance.

They are the eyes and ears of local communities providing sustenance and advocacy for Fijians thrust into a pandemic and vaccines they know little about.

“People are suffering they’re asking for food, medication, patients need care for non COVID diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and cancer. Pregnant women are in dire straits,” Shamima Ali says.

The Women’s Crisis Centre is seeing a spike in domestic violence as breadwinners lose their jobs, bills are left unpaid and families go hungry.

Shamima Ali says COVID protocols are in place but no one is policing them.

About 4000 villagers on the islands of Batiki, Nairai and Gau are in lockdown after crew on a supply ship contracted COVID 19 on their return to Suva.

“This is the time we need our leaders to step up. The traditional, community leaders and government itself are only appearing on zoom but they are not talking to the people with compassion.

“People don’t understand and there’s no one helping them to understand,” Shamima Ali says.

Fiji’s national seven-day average daily test positivity for COVID 19 is now 9.5 percent far surpassing the World Health Organisation’s 5 percent threshold.

To date 309, 293 people or 53 per cent of the population have received their first dose of Astra Zeneca vaccines 49,876 of whom have had two doses.

“I am truly puzzled by the pockets of resistance to this vaccine among some people when we know that vaccines have prevented the spread of dangerous diseases for literally centuries,” says Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong.

“This is a new vaccine because it is combatting a new disease. So every vaccine is new, yet the process of vaccination is time-tested and safe.”

Shamima Ali says people are not convinced the Government has a handle on how to contain the spread as a new cluster forms in Labasa - the business centre for the other big island Vanua Levu.

A Nadi businessman says there is deep mistrust among the people from the local market vendors right up to Government.

He says people are so laid back and crossing "no go" zones to drink grog. Many are turning to social media for medical information. Its where anti vaxers are spreading misinformation and fuelling confusion over vaccines.

The next contingent of intensive care specialists from Australia and New Zealand will include five Fijian doctors and ICU nurses. They are on standby as the first PacMet emergency response team returns from Fiji.

Hamilton paediatric surgeon Jitoko Cama is packed and ready to answer the call of duty in Fiji. He says the priority is taking care of people with serious respiratory distress and emergency surgeries.

“Fiji could do with face to face consultations with local communities like we’ve been doing with our Pacific communities here in New Zealand. 

"Educating and making people more aware of the virus and the life saving benefits of vaccines could ease the burden of COVID complacency," Dr Jitoko Cama says.