Fijians rally to get through dark times as Covid-19 cases grow
Fiji continues to battle a Covid-19 outbreak that’s claimed over 600 lives since April. In that time, it’s recorded over 51,000 cases.
Seventy percent of the target population is now fully vaccinated, and the government has started lifting some restrictions. But for community groups and officials, there are still many challenges ahead.
After six months of lockdown, the Centenary Methodist Church in Suva has opened its doors to welcome back parishioners. President of the Methodist church Rev Ili Vunisuwai welcomes the good news, but he understands it comes with special conditions.
“We have advised all our members to take heed of the advice, follow the protocol that’s just been announced — that is the meeting of 20 and worship of 70%. The Methodist [church] is very strict on that,” Vunisuwai says.
The Methodist faith is the largest Christian denomination in Fiji. Vunisuwai is encouraging his ministers and members to get vaccinated.
“There has been a lot of discussions and a lot of opposition, but slowly they realise that’s the only way forward for us to be get vaccinated and get ourself into safety in this pandemic.”
He’s urging worshipers to remain at home if they are not fully vaccinated, which is a stance leaders from another church do not agree on. Some have even resigned because they don’t believe in the vaccine.
Locals are adjusting to the new normal after the government lifted some restrictions to ease the socio-economic challenges caused by Covid-19. But psychotherapist Selina Kuruleca is concerned the coronavirus pandemic has now turned into a mental health crisis.
“We have seen a slight increase in attempted suicides compared to the same period last year,” Kuruleca says.
“People have lost their income. There’s more stress on the family. People are all stuck in the same place, where we have an increase in domestic violence and gender-based violence. We have increase in alcohol and substance use and abuse.”
She added that it’s added pressure on frontline health workers.
“For those of you who recognise someone is behaving differently and not their usual self, talk to them, reach out — you might be the lifeline that they need.”
The Rainbow Pride Foundation has been helping members of the rainbow community who have lost their jobs due to the Covid restrictions.
Programme officer Lepani Kaiwalu says the not-for-profit group was able to connect with members online.
“We were able to reach out to our members and provide them food and basic groceries assistance. So we developed an online questionnaire and we sent it to them,” Kaiwalu says.
They realised not everyone had access to a phone and internet, so they partnered with other providers, including the Fiji Council of Churches, so their vulnerable members were not left behind.
Meanwhile, the Fiji Council of Social Services says the current system has failed.
Chief Executive Vani Catanasiga says the health crisis has exposed a lot of gaps in the system, and she hopes Fiji can learn from the current situation to better prepare for the future.
“We are hoping that once this is all over that there is an opportunity to sit together, stakeholders across various sectors, to talk about how we apply these learnings and how we improve the system [to] cope with a health crisis of this proportion,” Catanasiga says.
In the meantime, many Fijians will be turning to the vaccine and their faith to get them through these challenging times.