166 more covid cases in Fiji as community spread ‘broadens’

Fiji vaccination rollout 210621
Fiji's covid-19 vaccination teams continue to roll out as another 50,000 doses of AstraZeneca arrived in Fiji at the weekend night with Australian help. Image: RNZ

By Lice Movono, RNZ Pacific correspondent in Suva

Fiji’s covid-19 cases continue to escalate as medical authorities have recorded another record breaking 166 new people now infected with covid-19 and a death at the Colonial War Memorial (CWM) Hospital in the capital Suva.

The Fiji government has stopped providing information about where the case increases are and the Health Secretary Dr James Fong admitted that community transmission was now “broad”.

The latest death is a 77-year-old man detected by a CWM screening team at his home where he had been bed-ridden for several months.

Despite that he had pre-existing medical conditions, doctors assessing clinical data have attributed the cause of death to covid-19. He represents the seventh to die from the virus, the fifth in this outbreak alone.

Cases in the small township of Lami just outside the capital continues to increase and so measures to ensure safe passage of people from affected containment zones to safe areas on the main island Viti Levu and to other islands is a focus of the government.

“The current priority is therefore to prevent the export of cases into the other non-containment zones. As such any request to move outside of the Central Division to other areas of Viti Levu and from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu and the Maritime zone needs to be strictly regulated,” Dr Fong said.

“Pre-departure swab tests and Quarantine capability are being expanded and strengthened to reduce the risk of spread within and beyond the main island, Viti Levu.”

Dr Fong said the majority of the weekend’s new cases were linked to existing clusters so the government would post heat maps on its digital platforms “to delineate case distribution within the Central and Western divisions.”

He added everyone should practise Covid Safe measures when they left their homes irrespective of where they lived or were going.

Vaccination roll-out continues
The Ministry of Health vaccination teams continue to roll out as another 50,000 doses of Astrazeneca arrived in Fiji on Saturday night as part of the Australian Government Support.

Vaccination now moves onto the outer islands of the Northern and Eastern Divisions of the country.

Fiji’s vaccine of choice remains AstraZeneca despite the fact that the Australian government, from which it receives the majority of its supply, has recommended the discontinued use of the vaccine for its under 60-year-olds.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt announced earlier this week the AstraZeneca vaccine would be recommended for use in people over 60 and those under 60 would now be offered the Pfizer shot.

The Australian federal government accepted advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) after two women died from an extremely rare blood clotting disorder and 60 Australians out of the 3.8 million who got the shot developed blood clots.

Meanwhile the Australian government has provided Fiji with 250,000 Australian-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines as part of its commitment of 1 million vaccines to its Pacific neighbour.

In response to concerns about Australia’s change of vaccine policy, the World Health Organisation Representative Office in the Pacific and the Ministry of Health Fiji put out a joint statement to say that after vaccinating 256,018 people (44 percent of the adult population) with one dose of AstraZeneca and administering two doses to 17,990 people, there were no confirmed cases of serious adverse effects.

Effective response measure
The WHO/MOH said covid-19 vaccination remains one of Fiji’s most effective response measures.

“Australia’s decision does not change the approach for us here in Fiji. Given the current community transmission and Covid-19 variant, all unvaccinated individuals are at risk from the virus.”

“It is also important to remember that serious adverse events following immunization with the AstraZeneca vaccine remain rare events.”

Further, the WHO continues to recommend Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines “for individuals aged 18 years and over. These vaccines have undergone the strictest safety and quality control trials and have reached the exacting standards of safety, purity, and effectiveness. Nothing is left to chance,” the statement said.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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