The Pacific archipelago nation of Fiji has asked Australia to deploy a medical support team to its capital Suva as it battles one of the fastest growing coronavirus outbreaks in the region.
James Fong, Fiji’s health secretary, said at a press conference this week: “Australians will deal with the contingency beyond our current preparations for the surge.”
“We have additional space to deploy in field hospitals and we have additional critical care capacity that we have not yet activated,” he added. “They come to help us plan beyond that.”
Australia has not publicly responded to the request, but Fiji’s needs are acute: After months of virtually no community transmission, the country has been hit for the past eight weeks by the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus known as Delta.
A single infection in an isolation facility has led to a major outbreak after infected people attended funerals, weddings and kava ceremonies, in which people often drink from the same bowl, which became superpreader events.
Fiji, with a population of approximately 900,000, now has more than 1,000 known active cases, with five people dying from the virus, according to a New York Times database. Authorities reported 91 new cases on Friday.
About 26 percent of Fijians have received at least one dose of an AstraZeneca vaccine, with doses purchased through the Covax global vaccine initiative or donated by Australia and New Zealand.
The government of Fiji has resisted calls for a 28-day national shutdown, citing concerns about the economic effects, and instead imposed specific local restrictions, including the closure of hospitals, the closure of Parliament and the restriction of travel between urban areas.
On a televised speech last weekPrime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the risks of a lockdown were too great. “People’s jobs may never come back,” he said. “We will suffer structural unemployment from the permanent loss of industries and I cannot allow that to happen, and I will not.”
Already some Fijians face shortages of food and medical supplies, leading to anti-lockdown protests in the Nadi region. Aid workers from Save The Children Fiji said the children were starving or surviving on canned fish and biscuits because their parents were unable to work.
“Many families have told us that they are exhausted,” said Shairana Ali, director of the organization. said in a statement. “Many parents are starving from stretching what little food they have to feed their children.”