SUVA, Fiji: Fiji announced its first coronavirus death Friday (Jul 31), but health officials assured people in the Pacific island nation that it was not the precursor to a major outbreak.
Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete said the victim was a 66-year-old man who tested positive after returning from India, where he had undergone surgery for a long-standing heart condition.
"Sadly, despite the best efforts of our health-care professionals, this gentleman passed away yesterday in the isolation ward at Lautoka hospital due to complications from COVID-19," Waqainabete told reporters.
He said the man was one of nine active cases who had been held in quarantine since they were repatriated from India on Jul 1.
Before then, Fiji had enjoyed a spell of four weeks virus-free, after the 18 cases it had previously recorded all recovered.
Fiji and other Pacific island nations were initially seen as among the world's most vulnerable to the virus because of under-resourced health infrastructure and high rates of health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
However, nations in the region acted swiftly and made the costly decision to seal borders, shutting down the tourism trade that powered their economies in order to protect their populations.
Waqainabete said the dead man, and the other eight cases among the group from India, had "zero interaction" with Fiji's general population.
"In many other countries, news of the first death due to the virus has signalled an intensifying of the outbreak," he said.
"This is not the case for Fiji. The virus is not present in Fijian communities, nor is there any risk of infection among the Fijian public."
Waqainabete offered condolences to the man's family.
"This is an enormous tragedy for them, and I can tell you that our staff at the ministry of health and medical services are devastated by this loss as well," he said.
He said Fiji remained committed to repatriating its citizens and had confidence in measures enacted to isolate any cases among returnees.