SYDNEY - Fiji's coronavirus crisis is worsening as reports of infections continue to soar in the South Pacific nation. The latest wave is occurring even though other parts of the Pacific have been spared the most severe impacts of the disease.
Although a small number of infections were detected early in the pandemic, Fiji went a year without recording any community transmission of COVID-19 until April 2021.
But that is changing now as cases of the highly transmissible delta variant have been rising sharply after a Fijian soldier working at a quarantine facility reportedly contracted the delta variant of the virus from a traveler who had returned from India.
On Tuesday, 715 new COVID-19 infections and 11 deaths were recorded in Fiji following a new daily record of 1,285 cases on Monday, according to Fiji's Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOHMS).
Charities have said the fragile health system is unable to cope with more than 18,000 active COVID-19 infections.
Fiji's two largest hospitals, in Suva and Lautoka, have been converted into dedicated coronavirus facilities, with field hospitals set up to treat patients not infected with the virus.
The Fijian government is resisting calls for a national lockdown, preferring instead to focus on vaccinations to keep the economy open. Only 18% of the population of about 900,000 people are fully inoculated, according to the health ministry.
Australia has donated tens of thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her government has offered assistance as well.
"Ultimately, as with any nation, it is up to the political leaders to decide how they wish to respond to a COVID outbreak, same for New Zealand, same for any country. Of course, you know, we are here and ready and willing to offer any support or advice that we may have from our experience," Ardern said.
Fiji is a South Pacific nation east of Australia with an economy heavily dependent on tourism.
Elsewhere in the Pacific region, Papua New Guinea has recorded 17,655 COVID-19 cases and 192 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. New Zealand has reported about 2,500 infections and 26 fatalities.
The region's isolation has helped to protect island nations from the worst of the pandemic. Samoa and Vanuatu have recorded one and three coronavirus cases respectively, while no infections have been detected in Tonga and the Cook Islands.