Fiji health staff who test positive for COVID-19 asked to continue working as outbreak worsens

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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.

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.

But medical experts have estimated that up to a third of Fiji’s COVID deaths may be unreported.

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.

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 focused 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.

Meanwhile, a bid to have a Covid-positive patient in Fiji transferred to New Zealand has been declined.

The Ministry of Health confirmed lastnight it had received a formal request for a person in Fiji to be moved to New Zealand for treatment, but declined the request on clinical grounds.

“A planned air transfer of a patient with Covid-19 requiring hospital-level care has been declined following advice from the Intensive Care Unit directors of the three Auckland metro DHBs that, given other commitments, there is not sufficient capacity to currently take the patient.”

The decision had been communicated to the appropriate Fijian authorities.

SOURCE: ABC/NZ HERALD/PACNEWS