A beach at a resort at Natadola Bay in Fiji. Tourism-reliant Fiji has been hit hard by Covid-19 and there are calls for a lockdown. Photo: AFP / Aileen Torres-Bennett

Fiji’s parliament has been forced to close as Covid-19 cases surge in the South Pacific country, overwhelming quarantine facilities and prompting calls for a nationwide lockdown.

After a staffer was found to be a close contact of a positive case, speaker Epeli Nailatikau said the legislative buildings in the capital Suva were shut.

“As a precautionary measure and out of an abundance of caution, the parliamentary precincts and offices will be closed with immediate effect,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Fiji went a full year without recording any community cases until April, when a second wave of infections hit. New cases have hit daily records, and an outbreak of the quick-spreading Delta variant, first identified in India, was detected.

Health authorities announced 94 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 604 active infections.

Permanent Secretary for Health James Fong said the rising numbers were swamping quarantine facilities, forcing patients to isolate at home.

“New positive cases are being entered into home isolation, where feasible,” he said. 

“Specific guidance has been provided for these individuals to ensure they do not have contact with other members of their households.”

Fiji’s two largest hospitals, in Suva and Lautoka, have been converted into dedicated Covid-19 facilities, with field hospitals set up to treat non-virus patients.

Fiji successfully quashed community transmission of the virus last year with a series of tough border and movement restrictions.

But the government has resisted imposing a nationwide lockdown during the latest outbreak, concerned it will exacerbate poverty rates already elevated by the closure of international tourism.

Instead, it has relied on localized stay-at-home orders and ramped up vaccination efforts.

But the leader of the opposition NFP Party Biman Prasad said a nationwide lockdown was inevitable to contain the spread of infections.

“The longer we wait and numbers rise, the longer and more painful the lockdown will be,” he said. “This is not rocket science. This is common sense.”

Prasad said it was time for health professionals, not politicians, to lead the Covid-19 response. He also urged the government to set aside its pride and ask for help from Australia and New Zealand. 

“Lives, health and incomes are at stake,” he said. “This is a time to accept that we are not coping with the problem and to request help to bring the crisis under control.”

Senior government figures have said little as the crisis escalates, but in an address over the weekend, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama urged the country’s 930,000 residents to keep faith with his containment strategy.

“Covid-19’s hold over Fiji will dissipate. It will weaken and the light at the end of the tunnel will glow brighter and brighter,” he said.