Fiji has closed its second largest hospital amid fears that a patient who died of Covid-19 may have infected multiple staff members. The 53-year-old man was only the Pacific country’s third Covid-related death since the pandemic began.
More than 400 patients, doctors, nurses and other medical staff were being quarantined at Lautoka hospital as of Wednesday, after a doctor who had treated the man also tested positive for the coronavirus.
Fiji ordered nationwide lockdowns last month after a cluster emerged out of Tavakubu in Lautoka linked to a quarantine facility. Many restrictions remain in place with schools closed, and people are confined to restricted zones though supermarkets, and essential services remain open.
James Fong, the permanent secretary for health and medical services, said the hospital had been locked down to prevent it from “becoming ground-zero for a wider outbreak”, adding that it was now a “tightly-contained, full-time Covid care facility”.
“The Lautoka hospital is closed to the public and all medical services will be re-routed to a network of back-up hospitals in Nadi, Ba, and Sigatoka, as well as the Punjas and Kamikamica health centres in Lautoka,” he said.
“Those who are working will operate on high alert, fully equipped in the proper personal protective equipment. They will be screened regularly and tested often. We are going to provide them with any and all support that they need. Food, supplies, bedding, whatever they require, we will provide,” Fong said.
Some wards were being converted into intensive care units housing additional beds and ventilators. The country has 80 ventilators though it has not been confirmed how many are at the Lautoka hospital.
The man who died had been admitted for surgery on 19 April but was later taken to intensive care after developing respiratory symptoms. He was Fiji’s 125th Covid patient and the first to die after contracting the virus locally.
Officials suspect the doctor caught the virus, which has been identified as the Indian variant, from the patient rather than the other way round. It is not clear how the patient became infected.
Lautoka is Fiji’s second city and has a population of around 71,000. The hospital is the second largest in the country and also services people from nearby islands and rural areas in the western division.
Its closure will further stretch staff at the Ministry of Health, who work in quarantine centres, run Covid-19 screening clinics, conduct contact tracing and are carrying out the country’s vaccination programme.
Fiji has been ramping up testing, screening and vaccinations since last month’s outbreak. Over 40,000 people, or 4.5% of the population, have now received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Ministry of Health is aiming to vaccinate 650,000 people over the age of 18.
Fiji’s borders were closed last year, only allowing for the repatriation of locals, and people coming to Fiji for work. Limited flights were allowed out of the country for returning expatriates and locals for urgent medical reasons.
But since the second wave of the virus began, all flights in and out of Fiji have been discontinued, with the exceptions of cargo planes.