Fiji virus outbreak hits economy, tests healthcare system
SUVA, Fiji (AP) – A growing coronavirus epidemic in Fiji is straining the healthcare system and devastating the economy. She even pushed the government to provide the unemployed with tools and money to become farmers.
The Pacific nation has gone through the first year of the pandemic without any significant outbreaks and just two virus deaths.
But an outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant two months ago has grown to the point where Fiji is adding around 250 new cases every day.
The government has so far resisted calls for a lockdown, in part to try to protect an economy that had already shrunk 19% last year after international tourism evaporated.
Almost half of all jobs were related to tourism in this island nation known for its white sand beaches, clear waters and welcoming locals.
“From a business perspective, this is very bad,” said George Bernard, who owns a fire extinguisher maintenance business. He fears that life will never be the same again. “I’m just trying to survive,” he said.
A vaccination campaign is in full swing, but has been hampered by misinformation that vaccines are dangerous or even bad. So far, around 29% of the population of just under a million have received their first dose, while 2% have been fully immunized.
Bernard, who heard some of the rumors, said he was in no rush to get the shot. “Sometimes I have doubts,” he said.
Nazia Hussain sells vegetables on her roadside stall and uses part of the profits to help her family members who have lost their jobs in supermarkets and shops in the capital, Suva.
“I’m doing this so that I can save money to do shopping for my family,” she said. But business had been slow and people had little money to spend.
Hussain said she believed the vaccine was a good thing and had taken the vaccine herself.
The Fijian government has delivered nearly 40,000 food rations packages to people isolated in their homes or in targeted containment areas. It has also enabled people to spend money from their retirement savings sooner.
A new program starting next month offers people who have lost their jobs and have access to rural land for about $ 200 of tools, planting materials and cash.
“The candidate must be an aspiring farmer intending to devote himself to farming full time as a main activity,” the program says.
During the current outbreak, 15 people have died and nearly 7% of those tested are positive, indicating that the virus is continuing to spread. Australia and New Zealand have sent vaccines, money and medical teams to help Fiji’s overburdened health system.
The Fijian government has ordered people in some areas, including Suva, to stay in their homes and only go out for essential reasons. He also imposed a nighttime curfew.
James Fong, the country’s permanent secretary for health, told reporters that a full nationwide lockdown would trigger a socio-economic disaster in Fiji.
But many fear it will happen anyway if the outbreak is left unchecked.
“Our numbers are skyrocketing now. We must unite against this virus, ”wrote Fred Wesley, editor of the Fiji Times. “Together Fiji! United, we must stand up!
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand.
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