Fijian health officials are bracing for a “tsunami” of Covid-19 cases, after the Indian variant was detected in the Pacific nation this week, with lockdowns announced in an attempt to stem the outbreak.
The Pacific country had largely managed to avoid community transmission over the course of the pandemic, before a cluster emerged this month linked to a quarantine facility, and exacerbated after a woman with the virus attended a funeral with 500 people.
The permanent secretary for health and medical services, James Fong, said six new cases had emerged in quarantine facilities on Tuesday and events in India showed the threat posed by the strain could not be underestimated.
“We cannot let that nightmare happen in Fiji,” he said in a televised address.
“We still have time to stop it happening but a single misstep will bring about the same Covid tsunami that our friends in India, Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States are enduring.”
As of Tuesday, Fiji had recorded 109 cases and just two deaths in a population of 930,000 since the pandemic began. There are currently 42 active cases, 18 of them detected at the border and 24 locally transmitted.
The cluster emerged after a soldier contracted the virus at a quarantine facility and transmitted it to his wife, who then exposed up to 500 people at a funeral.
Fong said there was evidence that soldiers who had returned from overseas deployments had broken quarantine rules by mixing with each other when they should have been in isolation.
“This is unacceptable,” he said, adding that the military was investigating what had happened.
The capital of Suva is in lockdown, along with Nadi and Lautoka, Fiji’s second-largest city.
Authorities on Tuesday banned inter-island travel, while national carrier Fiji Airways suspended all international and domestic passenger flights.
Fiji received four new Gene-X Pert testing machines on Wednesday, from the World Health Organization, Unicef and the Pacific Community.
The health minister, Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete, said the machines can run four Covid tests in 45 minutes and would assist the country’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
The ministry of health said the country conducted an average of 777 tests per day in the last week.
The emergence of community transmission is a blow for Fiji’s hopes of opening quarantine-free travel bubbles with Australia and New Zealand, both major sources of international tourists before the pandemic.