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Asia Today: Fiji sequesters hospital staff after COVID death

In this photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures after a meeting with core members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on May 5, 2021. (Simeon Celi/Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- 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.

    Authorities say that throughout the country, there are currently 28 cases of community transmission. They have restricted movement in six so-called containment areas, including the capital, Suva.

    Fiji's health system is ill-equipped to deal with a major outbreak.

    Dr. James Fong, the permanent secretary for health, said the hospital is closed and all medical services are being diverted to other facilities. He said those sequestered in the hospital would be provided with food, bedding and whatever other supplies they needed.

    "Right now, we are in a war with this virus and the frontline has just extended to Lautoka Hospital," Dr. Fong said. "This will be the greatest test our health care system has ever faced -- it will be a test for all of us. Lives are at stake, sacrifices must be made, and every Fijian's commitment is needed. The virus is insidious, it is unrelenting."

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

    In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

    -- Indonesia is prohibiting travel during the popular homecoming period to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. COVID-19 cases have been decreasing in the world's most populous Muslim country, but the government imposed the ban after seeing a significant rise in the mortality rate last year after the Eid holiday marking the end of Ramadan. The ban started Thursday and will last for 12 days, exempting only civil servants, police and military officers, and those who need to travel for work.

    -- 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.

    -- Australia's drastic COVID-19 strategies of preventing its citizens leaving the country and returning from India are being challenged in court. The government is resisting growing pressure to lift the Indian travel ban imposed last week until May 15 to reduce infections in Australian quarantine facilities. Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop said the challenge to the Indian travel ban will be heard by a judge on Monday. A libertarian group took its case against a ban on most Australians from leaving the country to the full bench of the Federal Court. The three judges are likely to announce their verdicts later.

    -- Infections in India hit another grim daily record on Thursday as demand for medical oxygen jumped seven-fold and the government denied reports that it was slow in distributing lifesaving supplies from abroad. The number of new cases breached 400,000 for the second time and pushed India's total past 21 million. The nation's health minister said India has enough oxygen but faces constraints in moving it. Most of its liquid oxygen supply is produced in eastern India while the demand has risen in northern and western parts.

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