Lessons from Fiji’s Covid-19 outbreak

News on Thursday of a potential Covid-19 case on a nearby island sent minor shockwaves through a New Zealand conditioned by more than 100 days with no community transmission to believe that the pandemic is no longer a threat.

That island was Stewart Island, but the presumed false positive detected on the southern outpost is not the island New Zealand should be paying attention to.

To our north, what has all the makings of a health disaster is unfolding in Fiji and the spiralling Covid-19 numbers there should be a reality check for those who think we are living life as normal.

Like New Zealand, Fiji is far from the world’s Covid-19 hot spots, which has afforded it relative pandemic security up until now.

There was even talk of including the island in New Zealand’s travel bubble, putting the popular destination back on the holiday agenda and providing vital income to that tourism-dependent country.

Instead, Fiji is now a salient warning of just how quickly things can go wrong in a pandemic.

As WellSouth staff scrambled to Stewart Island to test that small population for Covid-19, Fiji recorded its fourth death during this fresh outbreak, as well as 91 new cases.

More than 1000 Fijians are now in isolation with confirmed cases of Covid-19, and there have been more than 1500 cases of the highly infectious Delta variant recorded since late March.

This is the same variant which is causing a scare in Sydney and which has once more pushed back British plans to dispense with much of its Covid-19 precautions.

It has also been detected in New Zealand, but only in MIQ facilities and not further afield.

The word ‘‘yet’’ hangs as a heavy caveat to that statement . . . Sydney also had few cases of community transmission in recent times but has now rudely been returned to full alert.

How ready are New Zealanders to resume battle against Covid-19?

We are hardly doing the bare minimum at the moment — just half a million QR code scans a day, and half the population not using the app at all.

Thousands of New Zealanders will have travelled this weekend, including hundreds from here to cheer on the Highlanders.

Will they know where they were and when, if asked in a week’s time?

New Zealand has a rolling seven-day average of just over 4000 Covid-19 tests, the majority of which will have been in MIQ.

The Delta variant has spread so widely and so quickly in Fiji because its people were going about their lives as normal, and innocently spreading the virus as they went.

With so few tests in New Zealand it is entirely possible, as epidemiologists have repeatedly warned us, that undetected cases could be in this country.

With the Delta variant able to be transmitted so easily contact tracing will be critical to stem any spread of it, but New Zealanders’ lack of diligence in keeping a diary, digital or otherwise, of their movements will be a glaring vulnerability should a case slip through border security.

Vaccination will eventually provide a rampart against Covid-19, but just 7% of New Zealanders have that much-needed level of security at the moment.

Our younger people, a cohort which overseas research shows are more likely to spread the pandemic disease than any other, are still months away from a first Covid-19 vaccination, let alone a second.

It has been said many times before but it bears repeating: the Covid-19 pandemic is not over, and New Zealand can ill-afford to think that it is.

In the meantime, as well as keeping this country secure the Government should be ready to offer Fiji any additional help it asks for.

Comments

PM of Fiji refuses to impose lockdown and infection spreads. Yet who will they want to help clean up the mess? New Zealand. Get real Fiji.

A reality that NZ should be prepared for is Covid with the opening of our borders. That's the reason for vaccination.

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