Fiji’s Covid Cases Hit Record as Virus Threatens Once-Safe Pacific Islands 

Fiji is at the frontline of the battle against Covid-19 in the Pacific Islands as the nation faces its biggest challenge since the pandemic began and races to vaccinate its 900,000-strong population.

The tropical nation, whose tourism-dependent economy has already been smashed, posted a record 522 new cases and three deaths on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. While new infections dipped to 352 on Monday, Fiji has now recorded more than 6,500 cases and 33 deaths.

The outbreak shows how many nations that had initial success in keeping Covid out of their local communities through border closures are now vulnerable, particularly as more virulent strains such as the delta variant spread. Some of the nations in the Pacific Islands -- whose cumulative population of around 13 million people is sprawled over thousands of islands and atolls -- are this year seeing their first waves of the virus.

“It just shows us how fragile the Covid-free situation can be” among Pacific Islands nations, Jonathan Pryke, who heads research on the region for Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute, said in an interview. Still, he described the fact that so far more than 55% of Fiji’s adult population had received at least one vaccine dose as “a phenomenal achievement,” considering the logistical constraints of the nation’s rollout.

Fiji’s Covid Cases Hit Record as Virus Threatens Once-Safe Pacific Islands 

Still, the rising case numbers risk straining Fiji’s healthcare system. On Monday, the health ministry posted a statement on its Facebook page advising that mortuary capacity at a hospital was full. A separate statement said medical services at another hospital had been suspended.

Some other nations in the Pacific region seem to have brought cases under control -- at least for now.

Papua New Guinea, the region’s most populous nation, has recorded no new cases in the past week, compared with weekly totals of more than 2,000 infections in late March. But that nation has an extremely low vaccination rate and is relying on jabs being delivered by nearby Australia and New Zealand, which are behind on their own rollouts.

Lowy Institute’s Pryke said there was still concern for Papua New Guinea as the delta variant was extremely transmissible and “the risk has not subsided.”

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