Fiji, which got through the first year of the pandemic almost untouched, is now battling one of the fastest growing COVID-19 outbreaks in the world.
The number of new coronavirus cases reported daily in the Pacific island nation of 900,000 people has soared into the hundreds over the past month, after never exceeding single digits before late May. As of Wednesday, the country was averaging 383 new cases a day, or 43 for every 100,000 people, according to a New York Times database; the 636 new cases reported Wednesday set a record.
The surge is swamping the country’s ability to cope. Fiji’s largest hospital is now exclusively treating COVID-19 patients, and its mortuary is filled to capacity, the health ministry announced Monday. More than 1,000 COVID patients have been sent home from medical facilities to isolate themselves because the facilities had no space for them. The government is working to turn a sports arena outside Suva, the capital, into a makeshift clinic.
The country, which is using the AstraZeneca vaccine, depends on Australia and New Zealand to supply it with doses, but New Zealand’s medical regulatory body has not yet authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine, complicating the rollout. About 31% of Fijians have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, but fewer than 5% are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
Instead, New Zealand has provided the country with 40 million New Zealand dollars ($28 million) worth of aid and support. “We have provided support in the form of PPE and of course the commitment we’ve made around AstraZeneca vaccines, which is what Fiji are using for their rollout,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
James Fong, the country’s health secretary, said that some Fijians were putting off seeking treatment for COVID symptoms, sometimes with deadly results.
“We are also sadly seeing people with severe disease die at home, or on the way to hospital, before our medical teams have a chance to administer what could potentially be lifesaving treatment,” Fong said.
Thirty-seven of the 39 COVID deaths reported in Fiji throughout the pandemic have occurred since the latest outbreak began.
Officials say the outbreak appeared to be driven by one case of the highly contagious delta variant that escaped the country’s isolation facilities and spread rapidly in the community.
Repeated breaches of local health restrictions have further increased the spread. More than 1,000 people have been arrested for breaching a national curfew, while 48 people were arrested in a 24-hour period earlier this week for breaching mask requirements, according to police. The government has refused to impose a lockdown to contain the outbreak.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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