Coronavirus: COVID-19 patient in Fiji being flown to Auckland after request for hospital care initially declined

A COVID-19 patient in Fiji will on Thursday be flown to Auckland for hospital care.

The Ministry of Health has confirmed to Newshub that health authorities "have approved a formal request for the transfer and treatment of a patient from Fiji who has tested positive for COVID-19".

The New Zealand Air Ambulance Service plane is currently on its way to Fiji and will return with the patient, believed to be a United Nations (UN) worker based in Suva, later on Thursday afternoon. The ministry says for privacy reasons it can't provide further details about the patient.

Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister and United Nations Development Programme Administrator (UNDP), has told Newshub the request came from the UN.

"I have total confidence in Middlemore Hospital and its first class ICU," she said. "They have done an outstanding job throughout the pandemic, and indeed during all emergencies to which they respond."

"In this case, Counties Manukau and Middlemore have stepped up to respond to a UN request which will be hugely appreciated by the UN and the patient and her family. NZ is the first port of call for MEDEVAC by the UN in the Pacific and all costs are met in full by it."

The Ministry of Health says in its statement that the "receiving hospital is yet to be confirmed".

The patient's request was initially declined earlier this week for "capacity reasons", but the Ministry of Health says "the fluidity of the situation at the metro-Auckland DHB ICUs determined this treatment can be provided". 

"The region will continue to work closely together to manage capacity issues."

The spokesperson says approval "follows agreement by the metro-Auckland DHBs to treat the patient, and a transfer plan approved by a Medical Officer of Health from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service and agreed to by New Zealand Air Ambulance Service".

The plan, the Ministry of Health says, takes into consideration the safety of both the patient and the crew transporting the patient. 

"The metro-Auckland DHBs are working in an extremely busy and dynamic environment, due in part to higher than normal presentations of RSV and winter illness. The receiving hospital is yet to be confirmed, and will be determined by the treatment required by the patient and the capacity in the respective ICUs.

"There are appropriate isolation and infection prevention and control plans in place at all the metro-DHB hospitals to accommodate this patient.

"The approval follows a request for specialist treatment in New Zealand. Requests for medical treatment in New Zealand from overseas jurisdictions, particularly in the Pacific, are common. Every request is considered, carefully taking into account factors such as the clinical needs of the patient, whether safe transport can be arranged and the availability of care in New Zealand."

Fiji's health services have come under incredible pressure by a large outbreak of COVID-19 there. While the island nation got through the first year of the pandemic with few cases, the virus has spread at a rapid rate in recent months.

The latest update from the country's Ministry of Health and Medical Services says in the 24 hours to 8am on Wednesday, 1057 new cases were detected. Since April, Fiji has recorded more than 26,000 cases and suffered 216 deaths.

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