Coronavirus: Fiji's rate of infection spread overtakes India at its reported peak - statistician

Fiji's rapidly escalating COVID-19 crisis has overtaken the spread of infection seen in India at its reported peak, a Canterbury University statistician says. 

There were 791 new cases announced on Wednesday, which is a record for Fiji, along with three deaths.

Professor Michael Plank says India's case numbers were likely higher than reported, but if you take their official statistics on cases, the situation for Fiji is grim by comparison. 

"Compared to India, it's higher than the number of reported cases in India relative to population size at the peak of their outbreak," he says.

Fiji announced 636 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 352 on Monday. There have been 42 total deaths in the country.

"It's looking really serious now. They're averaging more than 500 cases every day, and to put that in a New Zealand context, that would be the equivalent relative to our population size of having more than 2500 cases per day," Plank says.

Fiji's opposition leader Biman Prasad, from the National Federation Party, says while the health system is struggling, the country's political leader's communication to the public about the crisis has been a "total failure".

"The number of cases are rising exponentially, the health systems are giving up, and people are dying," he says.

Fiji's strategy has been to contain virus hotspots by blocking roads, but homes are crowded and infection is still rife.

"Incidents like that where you contain people, the cases are still increasing anyway, people are still moving around within those containment zones," says Suva resident Cheerriann Wilson.

With hospitals overwhelmed with the sick, pregnant women without the virus have been giving birth on a medical ship docked in Suva. But the staff to deliver the babies are thin on the ground.

"Taking the maternity staff, about 40 of them have tested positive also," says gynecologist and oncologist Dr Pushpa Nusair.

Even the ship that non-infected women could give birth on is no longer a COVID-free haven. It recently lost that status and is now closed to new admissions.

"Unfortunately there have been some positive cases on the ship so the ship is closed for the next three days," says Dr Nusair.

Michael Plank.
Michael Plank. Photo credit: Newshub.

Calls for a nationwide lockdown have been resisted on the basis it'll hurt businesses.

"It's a great mistake. It's a mistake both for the public health emergency, controlling the spread of the virus, but also a bad mistake on the economy," Prasad says.

Fiji's leaders are rarely seen and press conferences are rarely given.

"They're not communicating well. They can't even come on time to give a press conference. The Prime Minister and the other ministers are not seen," Prasad says.

"That is one area where the Government has totally failed since the crisis has hit us."

Fiji's Government is promoting vaccination on social media.

So far, 9.7 percent of the country's target population has been fully vaccinated.  

Dr Nusair told Newshub medical teams are doing an incredible job working "very long hours" in tough conditions away from their families. She says any extra help on the ground would be appreciated. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says sending more medical personnel was a "possibility" but no decision had been made yet. Authorities in New Zealand have to wait until they get an official request for help. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry's emailed some Kiwi doctors and nurses to ask if they'd be willing to go to Fiji for an eight-week deployment.

The seven-day average of new cases per day in Fiji has increased to 503 cases per day and cases and deaths are expected to continue rising. 

Hundreds of people with COVID-19 are being told to isolate at home because there's a lack of space in other facilities. Due to rising cases in the Suva-Nausori area, the Health Ministry there is no longer providing home-based screening or swabbing services except in "exceptional circumstances".