COVID-19: Fiji records 83 coronavirus cases, its highest daily total yet

James Fong, the permanent secretary of health
James Fong, the permanent secretary of health. Photo credit: RNZ

Fiji recorded 83 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday - its highest daily figure yet - as authorities moved to cordon off the country's largest hospital and quarantine an entire village, battling to bring a rapidly growing outbreak under control.

Eleven of the cases were of unknown origin, said James Fong, the permanent secretary of health, and were being treated as cases of community transmission until proven otherwise.

Fong also announced that the country's largest hospital, the Commonwealth War Memorial Hospital in Suva, would be sealed off from the community and become a full-time COVID-19 care facility with tightly controlled movement.

"Access to laboratory, maternity and paediatric units will be through escalated screening protocols and package decontamination protocols," he said in a written statement late on Sunday night.

An additional field hospital to treat non-COVID patients will be set up in the hospital's vicinity, Fong said, with support from Australia.

The entire village of Mulomulo, in Nadi, has also been placed under lockdown after contact tracing investigators found more than 100 people had attended a funeral, which Fong said could become a super-spreader event. Currently, funerals are capped at 10 people.

New clusters have also been confirmed in Naitasiri, to the north of Suva, including one patient who was recently discharged from the Commonwealth War Memorial Hospital.

"The high number of cases confirmed today signals a much larger proportion of cases in the community," Fong said. "We expect more days of high numbers of confirmed cases. We sadly expect more hospitalisations as more severe cases of the disease develop."

In the past week, large clusters have been recorded at two hospitals, the Navy, and the health ministry itself, including close advisors to Dr Fong.

More than 2700 tests were carried out on Saturday, the government said, with a seven-day average of 2819. Fong said this was one of the highest rates in Oceania.

But with the country also contending with one of Oceania's worst outbreaks of the coronavirus - more than 600 cases have been recorded since the latest outbreak began in April - the government has insisted that more stringent lockdown measures are not needed.

"Thanks to the massive step-up in the pace of our testing, we can continue to fight this virus in a targeted way," Fong said. "A way that allows Fijians to access essential services and allows the economy to function as normally and safely as possible."

The government also said an additional 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be flown in from Australia this week. More than 206,000 people have now received their first dose, while 4599 are now fully vaccinated.

This is a developing story which will be added to as more information comes to hand.