A major hospital in Lautoka, Fiji, has closed to the public with the entire hospital — including patients and more than 400 medical staff — in lockdown.
- A 53-year-old man, one of Fiji’s latest COVID-19 cases, died at Lautoka Hospital while infectious with the virus
- The government says the community is the most likely source of the Lautoka Hospital outbreak.
- Hospital staff and patients were asked to quarantine away from family and friends, with very little notice
Staff who had already left Lautoka Hospital were called to come back, and are now in quarantine until more testing is done.
On Thursday, the Fijian government confirmed four new cases of COVID-19. One of the cases came from border quarantine and the other three were local cases.
It comes after a 53-year-old man — and one of Fiji’s latest COVID-19 cases — died at Lautoka Hospital while infectious with the virus.
The man has also been suspected to be the source of transmission for the two doctors at the hospital who tested positive for the virus.
His death is Fiji’s third from the virus and the first linked to a local transmission.
The government said testing had ruled out a breach of the Lautoka Hospital Isolation Ward after all staff returned negative COVID-19 test results.
Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, James Fong, said testing indicated the community was the most likely source of the Lautoka Hospital outbreak.
“As our testing capacity steadily increases, we are going to become even more judicious in our testing of all Fijians with COVID-like symptoms, regardless of their connection to existing patients,” he said during a live-streamed media conference.
‘It’s just really scary’
Hospital staff and patients at the Lautoka Hospital were asked to quarantine away from family and friends, with very little notice.
For Satendra Chand, whose wife is a patient at the hospital, separation from her has been difficult.
Mr Chand, who has diabetes and heart problems, relies on the care given to him by his wife. Now he says he does not “have any choice” and has to adjust.
“I’m a sick person that can’t cook because I’m a heart patient. She was the one who was looking after me, even I don’t know which tablet to take.”
Lautoka local Georgia Jemima Lee-Lou has concerns about what the lockdown will mean for the community.
“It’s just really scary. It’s pretty eerie, I would say. And we’re anticipating something like a full-scale lockdown,” she said.
“At the moment everything’s pretty desperate in Lautoka and it’s all just touch and go on this side.”
‘A necessary sacrifice’
To cater for non-COVID patients, Dr Fong announced there would be a 150-bed non-COVID Field Hospital set up in Lautoka.
“We plan to have this open in 48 hours to handle patients with illnesses that can be treated on a 21-day timeline,” he said.
At the moment, all medical services at Lautoka Hospital have been re-routed to a network of backup hospitals in Nadi, Ba, and Sigatoka, as well as the Punjas and Kamikami health centres in Lautoka.
Ashank Naidu, a doctor based in Sigatoka, 90 kilometres south of Lautoka, said he was already expecting an overflow of people, as many are scared of visiting public hospitals.
“There’s a sense of fear amongst the people that if they go to public hospitals, and there’s somebody sitting beside a coronavirus patient and they’re not vaccinated, they could contract the virus,” he said.
Dr Naidu has many friends and colleagues who are in lockdown at Lautoka Hospital.
“There are some single mothers and fathers and parents who just had a few seconds to wave goodbye to their loved ones at home. And then other times I’ve heard that they had not had any chance to make any arrangements.”
Lautoka resident Angelie Rai said locals were frightened.
She said there had been long lines of people waiting to get the COVID-19 vaccine in town.
“We [are] waiting for the lines of public [to clear] before we can actually go [and get vaccinated],” she said.
The president of the Rotary Club of Lautoka, Crystal Bouchard, said the demand for help and food during the COVID emergency had been high.
“We’ve issued up to 1,000 food parcels in our Lautoka Western Division, our club and in partnership with other clubs,” she said.
“So we’ve managed through the last year of COVID here to get health aid to people who are often in lockdown or stranded because of no cash. And people who had decent jobs and tourism now have nothing.”
The Fijian government has also announced that contingency plans have been developed for a range of scenarios, including the need to expand capacity in the event of additional community cases in and outside of the hospital.
But Dr Fong advised the community to do their part and get tested.
“This is a devastating virus, and as we have said, it is very unforgiving of even the smallest lapse or mistake.”