Health authorities in Fiji said a six-month-old baby has become the youngest victim of a worsening coronavirus outbreak. Hundreds of new infections are being reported every day and officials have warned the virus was likely to remain in Fiji as an endemic disease like the common flu.
Cases of COVID-19 have been reported across Fiji, a South Pacific archipelago that lies about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand.
The government confirmed 396 new cases by late Sunday. The World Health Organization has reported more than 45,000 coronavirus cases in Fiji since the pandemic began, while Fijian health officials have said 479 people have died. The vast majority of fatalities have come since the latest outbreak began in April. Among the victims are a six-month old baby and an eleven-year-old girl.
Fiji’s coronavirus emergency is centered on the main island of Viti Levu. So far, authorities have said the second largest island, Vanua Levu, has escaped the worst of the pandemic. However, former Fiji health minister Dr. Neil Sharma told Radio New Zealand that the island was ill-prepared should infections increase.
“Vanua Levu has a much smaller population, but the health facilities are very limited; one divisional hospital in the north and a sub-divisional hospital, which are rather small. They would eventually fall short of supplies. The virus has been moving faster than our strategic planning has gone,” Sharma said,
Senior officials fear that the coronavirus will never be eliminated in Fiji and will become endemic. About a million people live in Fiji. The government says more than 45% of eligible people were fully vaccinated, far more than in neighboring Australia and New Zealand.
In New Caledonia, doctors and employers have called for compulsory coronavirus inoculations, fearing a catastrophe if the delta variant was to reach that South Pacific island nation.
It closed its international borders in March last year and remains free of COVID-19 but just a third of the population of about 300,000 has been inoculated, according to authorities. The kingdom of Tonga has also recorded no coronavirus cases.
It is a different story in other parts of the Pacific. The U.S. territory of Guam has recorded 9,500 infections and 145 deaths since the pandemic began. Papua New Guinea has reported 18,000 COVID-19 cases and 192 fatalities, according to the WHO.