As Fiji continues to battle a spiralling outbreak, its government has directed asymptomatic health staff who have tested positive to COVID-19 to keep working.
- More than 300 people have died after contracting COVID-19
- Only those in high-risk groups are being tested
- Experts estimate up to a third of deaths may have gone unreported
In a letter circulated by the Ministry of Health, those infected staff have been asked to continue their work in COVID safe “bubbles” without elaboration.
Health workers who are primary or secondary contacts of COVID patients have also been told they need to keep working with infection control measures.
The directive comes as Fiji authorities shift their COVID-19 strategy from an elimination phase to a mitigation phase in parts of the country where community transmission is widespread.
More than 300 people have died after contracting COVID-19 in Fiji, and almost 6,000 new cases have been detected this week alone, in one of the fastest-spreading coronavirus outbreaks in the world.
A quarantine breach in April unleashed the highly contagious Delta variant on the Pacific nation, ending a year without community transmission.
The pandemic has battered tourism, Fiji’s biggest industry, and led to massive underemployment around the country.
Authorities are no longer testing everyone with COVID-19 symptoms — only those in high-risk groups, including people over age 50, those who have a chronic illness, or pregnant women.
The outbreak has overwhelmed hospitals, with emergency beds set up in the national gymnasium for both COVID and non-COVID patients.
‘Dire consequences’ as Fiji shifts strategies
Basharat Munshi, president of Fiji’s Medical Association, said the government’s decision to change to a mitigation strategy meant community transmission was now accepted and authorities were dealing with the most “dire consequences” of the virus.
As a result, he said some health workers were bound to become infected as more resources were focussed on caring for the sick.
“Staff are human, they will get exposed to the disease,” Dr Munshi said.
He believed the directive issued by the Ministry of Health for asymptomatic staff to continue working was directed more at understaffed clinics.
“It’s a judgement call as well. So if someone is a bit sick with it, with some symptoms, then of course they need to isolate,” Dr Munshi said.
The ABC has approached Fiji’s Ministry of Health for comment, but they are yet to respond.