How Fiji copes: Covid-19 and Harold
When I posted a month ago, no cases of Covid-19 had been identified in Fiji. Inevitably, this has changed. There are now 16 confirmed cases which have been traced to two sources.
A young Fiji Airways flight attendant brought the virus to Fiji from Los Angeles on a direct flight. Despite orders for the crew not to leave their hotel rooms, he wanted to see relatives in the city and attended a party. After his return flight to Nadi he became ill and was Fiji's first confirmed Covid-19 case on 19th March.
A 54 year-old man from Labasa in Vanua Levu flew home from India in March. He ignored the instruction to isolate himself for 14 days. Now he and six members of his family in Suva and Labasa have contracted Covid-19.
Last November's measles epidemic provided Fiji's medical service with recent experience of successful containment of infectious disease. Having watched the experience of the rest of the world, the government didn't hesitate to stop the disease spreading. Visitors were directed to leave the country, ports are closed to cruise ships and yachts, Nadi international airport is closed except to evacuation flights, schools and public places are closed, physical distancing is the rule and a nation-wide curfew operates from 8 pm to 5 am. In addition, since 30 March, a lock-down of the capital Suva has been enforced by police roadblocks.
Fijians tend to be sociable and laid-back, but the government insists people take these restrictions seriously. Last weekend the police arrested 258 people for breaches, most of them for breaking the rules for social gathering. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama made it clear: "Don’t needlessly socialise, don’t meet up for grog sessions and get a shock when you find yourself behind bars." (Note: grog in Fiji refers to kava, not alcohol.)
In the middle of this social disruption, Tropical Cyclone Harold blew in last week from Vanuatu. Thankfully, Harold was not the worst of Fiji's recent cyclones, but hundreds of homes, businesses and crops were destroyed in Fiji's southern islands. Today, 1,541 Fijians remain in 52 evacuation centres. These are usually schools and churches, where it is difficult to observe the Covid-19 rules. The delivery of aid flights from Australia and New Zealand has been slowed by valid concerns about their potential to transmit the virus. However, they are now arriving and electricity supply is being restored.
Virus + Harold = ?
Tourism accounts for 40% of Fiji's national income. That has totally stopped to preserve the health of the people. If we add on business and agricultural losses from cyclone damage, the sum represents a massive blow to the modest means of most Fijians. In my experience, Fijians have a healthy grasp on what's most important in life, and are resourceful in providing for their families by growing food, fishing and sharing.
You can listen to what the Fiji Prime Minister said about this yesterday here.
When Covid-19 no longer controls our world, I urge you to help this resilient people bounce back by escaping to Fiji for your next holiday.
I look forward to hearing from you!