11,000 swab processing backlog means restrictions must remain: Dr Fong

Fiji has a backlog of 11,000 COVID19 swab specimens to be processed, some of which will be sent to Australia, and until that has been done and cleared, existing restrictions including containment measures around the country will remain, Fijian authorities say.

Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong said the backlog stems from the combined result of the closure of the Fiji CDC and increased tracing and testing done in recent days.

While plans are in place to send some samples to a lab in Melbourne to clear the backlog, the processing of tests in Fiji at this stage is being prioritised with samples of high-risk individuals being processed first.

“We are tracing much faster than we have been able to test due to the recent issue at Fiji CDC. We simply have to run many, many more tests. Until we know more, we have 11,000 reasons why we can’t roll back more restrictions. We simply have to run many, many more tests,” Dr Fong said.

He said the backlog does not mean that Fiji lacks the capacity to carry out tests. Dr Fong pointed out that when recent test numbers are weighed against the country’s population, Fiji’s daily testing rate is on par with the current rate of testing in Australia and New Zealand i.e. 1-3 per 1000 population per day.

“I mentioned that we had run more than 2,500 tests since yesterday. I want to put our current testing capacity in perspective for everyone. In the midst of last year’s COVID-19 outbreak, we ran 776 COVID-19 tests in the entire month of April. In other words, something like 25 tests per day.

“Before this outbreak our testing had grown to about 250-300 per day. And then before the temporary shutdown of Fiji CDC over the weekend we were testing at an average of 1785 samples per day.

“We have 28 new Genexpert machines received yesterday that are being deployed nationwide. Assuming they run 24/7, our total testing capacity will rise to at least 3,000 tests per day.”

The backlog of swabs will be sent to Australia on Thursday, with the results expected by this weekend.

Meanwhile, in Fiji containment measures remain including the curfew hours which run from 6pm to 4am daily on Viti Levu.

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