Coronavirus: Fiji faces large rise in COVID-19 deaths, lockdown needed - Michael Baker

A refrigerated container has been added to the morgue in Fiji's capital to help authorities cope with the growing number of bodies. 

The country's focusing on vaccines rather than lockdowns, but public health Professor Michael Baker says you can't vaccinate your way out of a pandemic this intense and the outlook is that more will die in the coming weeks.  

The freezer is a makeshift extension to the capital's mortuary, and a grim reminder of what's at stake. It has the capacity to hold 50 extra bodies, and another one is on standby. 

"The situation is quite horrendous. Right now we have many people who are scared, many people who are also scared for their loved ones," says Shairana Ali, the chief executive of Save the Children Fiji. 

On the streets of Suva, it doesn't look like residents are in the middle of an escalating crisis. Police are out in force reminding residents of the rules. 

The focus has been on vaccines but Prof Baker says that won't halt the spread quick enough.

"In their current situation, you can't vaccinate your way out of a epidemic that is this intense. Ultimately, it will takes weeks or months to get very high vaccine coverage," he says.

From Monday, there will be instant fines for people not wearing a mask. 

The death toll is now 51. A 15-year-old who had COVID-19 is among the victims - but the cause of death is still being examined. There were 860 new cases recorded on Friday. 

"It's a very serious situation. They now have one of the highest rates of new COVID cases in the world."

He says the case numbers are only heading one way. 

"Seriously-ill people filling the hospitals and unfortunately in the next two or three weeks we will see a large rise in people dying from this infection."

Baker says a strict lockdown is needed - without it - the country will need extra resources including health staff and oxygen to cope with the ever-growing deadly reality.