SEAN SINGH WRITES – In March, a Fiji Air flight, commonly known as the ‘Corona Virus plane’, made its way to the tropical paradise in the South Pacific.
On the 19th of that month, a crew member of Fiji Air had been diagnosed with COVID-19. What happened next was swift and immediate action by the government of Fiji Islands – a complete lockdown of the city of Lautoka, where the ailing crew member resided. This lockdown came within 24 hours of the diagnosis. All schools and non-essential businesses were closed.
No wonder the response was so quick! The Fiji Islands benefit from trade with China and, over the past few decades, Fiji has opened tourist markets to those longing for a secluded paradise. Obviously, government officials had been watching the events of Wuhan and preparing for this immediate shutdown. After lockdown, they began contact tracing involving crew and passengers on three flights that had gone from San Francisco to Fiji, followed by round trip flights from Fiji to Auckland, New Zealand. Those individuals on those flights were then contacted and quarantined.
Not all passengers and crew were easily located, though, so the government gathered the names and known addresses of those they couldn’t find and broadcast the information on news and social media channels, with this request: Please contact authorities to ensure that further contact tracing and appropriate quarantine can be done.
Next, flights and cruise ships were banned.
Then on April 3, 2020, the government implemented a complete ban on all social gatherings throughout the Islands. Prime Minister Vorequ Bainimarama stated, “We’re closely watching the behavior of all Fijians, and if these habits aren’t changed on your own accord, we aren’t afraid to scale up our enforcement to contain COVID-19. We can achieve this one of two ways: By your willing cooperation, or by heavy-handed action. For every Fijian, this will be much easier if you follow our directives – but if not, we will be forced to crack down with a nationwide 24-hour curfew.”
The Fiji Islands had several advantages in taking control of the disease. They are located remotely in the South Pacific, and have a population of less than a million. In addition, the Prime Minister is empowered to make decisions impacting the entire nation so as to enforce rules and execute immediate consequences. Besides, total lockdown is not a complex endeavor for Fiji, given that there are only a few main roads, as well as entry and exit points, into the island towns.
At present there are only seven confirmed cases, which suggests that Fiji’s reaction to COVID-19 has been effective.
Now, then, it looks like the Fiji islands offer not just a secluded paradise but a safe haven.