Fiji fears virus ‘tsunami’ after outbreak discovered to be Indian variant

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A COVID-19 outbreak that forced Fiji's capital to lock down after the island nation avoided transmission for a year was confirmed as an Indian variant on Tuesday. Health officials said they feared a "tsunami" of cases.

The Pacific country had largely dodged community transmission before a cluster emerged this month that focused on a quarantine facility in Nadi, the city where Fiji's international airport is located.

Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services James Fong said six new cases had emerged in quarantine facilities on Tuesday and events in India showed the threat from the exposure should not be underestimated.

"We cannot allow this nightmare in Fiji," he said in a televised address.

"We still have time to prevent this from happening, but one misstep will create the same COVID tsunami that our friends in India, Brazil, South Africa, the UK and the US are suffering."

Fiji has largely contained the virus through strict isolation measures and border controls, registering 109 cases and only two deaths out of a population of 930,000.

There are currently 42 active cases, 18 of which were discovered at the border and 24 were transmitted locally.

The cluster began when a soldier in a quarantine facility contracted the virus and passed it on to his wife, who exposed up to 500 people at a funeral.

Fong said there is evidence that soldiers returning from overseas missions violated quarantine rules by mingling with each other when they should have been isolated.

"This is unacceptable," he said, adding that the military was investigating what had happened.

The capital Suva is blocked along with Nadi and Lautoka, Fiji's second largest city.

Authorities on Tuesday banned travel between the islands while national airline Fiji Airways suspended all international and domestic passenger flights.

The rise of community broadcasts is a blow to Fiji's hopes of opening quarantine-free travel bubbles with Australia and New Zealand, both of which are major sources of international tourists ahead of the pandemic.

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© 2021 AFP

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