Asia Today: Fiji sequesters hospital staff after COVID death

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The military and police in the Pacific nation of Fiji have surrounded and locked down a major hospital amid concerns of a growing virus outbreak.

Health authorities say they’re quarantining 400 patients, doctors, nurses and staff within the compound until they can determine who had contact with a coronavirus patient who died.

The 53-year-old patient at Lautoka Hospital was just the third person in Fiji to die from the virus but the nation’s leaders are deeply worried that the latest outbreak is spreading, especially after two doctors at the hospital tested positive for the virus.

Dr. James Fong, the permanent secretary for health, said the country was in a war against COVID-19 that posed the greatest-ever test of its health care system. He said the hospital is closed and all medical services are being diverted to other facilities.

Fong said those sequestered in the hospital would be provided with food, bedding and whatever other supplies they needed.

Fiji is located north of New Zealand and is home to just under 1 million people.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked China to take back 1,000 doses of donated Sinopharm vaccine after he was criticized for getting the injection even though the vaccine hasn’t been authorized for public use in the country. The Philippine health secretary injected Duterte on Monday, and an unspecified number of Duterte’s guards received the Sinopharm vaccine in secrecy. Duterte said he told the Chinese ambassador “that this came under criticism because Sinopharm did not undergo examination so let’s just do away with it. You withdraw all Sinopharm vaccines, 1,000 of them.” Duterte said his injection did not breach any regulation because it fell under a “compassionate use” exemption. Critics, however, said Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III made a mockery of vaccine regulations while ordinary Filipinos have struggled with a plethora of pandemic restrictions.

— The U.S. State Department has authorized the departure of all non-essential American staff at the embassy in New Delhi and consulates around India because of its surging COVID-19 outbreak. The step announced late Wednesday in the U.S. means such staff can leave voluntarily at government expense but aren’t required to do so. Families of embassy and consulate staff had been allowed to leave last month. India’s latest surge has brought its health systems near collapse, with hospitals overwhelmed with patients and pleading for oxygen supplies.