In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Fiji
  • Jope Tarai (bio)

The year 2021 saw an extension, if not an escalation, of the main political, economic, and health-related challenges of the previous year, underpinned mostly by the covid-19 pandemic. In addition, it exposed the heavy-handed nature of Fiji's current political landscape.

The year began with covid-19 issues at the center of Fiji's focus, primarily the vaccination plans that were to be rolled out for the year. Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong announced that a task force was being set up to administer the vaccine rollout plans (Nacei 2021b). Frontline workers, such as health-care, law enforcement, and airport workers, were the first to be allowed to receive their first dose of the covid-19 vaccine in early March (who 2021). By 13 April, vaccinations were opened to the general public, targeting the densely populated Central Division of Suva (Fiji Sports Council 2021). This was generally received with an observed level of optimism, and most Suva residents lined up to get vaccinated. Dr Fong stated that the vaccine was not mandatory but that he advised against refusing it given the protection it provided against covid-19. However, this dramatically changed in July when Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced that it was mandatory for all workers in Fiji to get vaccinated under a directive he called the "No Jab, No Job" policy (Nacei 2021a). In a national address on covid-19, Bainimarama made it clear that regardless of occupational level, all employees must be vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. This policy was pushed through in the Public Health Regulations Act 2021 and the Health and Safety at Work Regulations Amendment 2021 (Bailey and Malungahu 2022; Tuitoga and Suguturaga 2021). Employers and employees were required to have the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before 1 August 2021 and the second dose by 1 November 2021 (Nacei 2021a; Tuitoga and Suguturaga 2021). Some exemptions were provided, including for those under the age of eighteen and those with an underlying medical condition, confirmed by the Fiji Ministry of Health, that could make vaccination risky. Employers were compelled to enforce the policy as a matter of health and safety in the workplace and the protection of employees against high rates of covid-19 infection and transmission. Employers risked f$1,500 fines for being unvaccinated themselves and up to f$10,000 in fines for failure to enforce the law with unvaccinated workers (f$1.00 is equivalent to around us$0.46) (Tuitoga and Suguturaga 2021).

The Fijian government's dramatic turn toward mandatory vaccination legislation was a result of a combination of factors. On the surface, the main factor behind the legislation seemed to be the issue of vaccine hesitancy. However, much deeper than this were the underlying issues of a hemorrhaging tourism industry and a negligent military border quarantine team, which had led to Fiji's biggest community outbreak. Tourism, being Fiji's primary revenue earner, had been hemorrhaging for over a year with a range of job losses (Tarai 2021). [End Page 457] These job losses were made worse by the controversy that surrounded the treatment of Fiji Airways staff by management, which was supported by the government. While workers were open to salary decreases and reduced hours to keep the national airline going, in the span of one week, over three hundred airline staff were laid off, with further staff reductions pending (rnz 2020a). By May, the number of staff affected and taking management and the government to court escalated to over seven hundred (Pareti 2020). In the same period, the government prepared to pass legislation to keep the airline afloat with an estimated us$227.5 million loan (Pareti 2020). As such, the impetus for reviving the tourism industry was high on the agenda, with mass vaccination being seen as the only way to reopen Fiji's borders (Rawalai 2021). These challenges were compounded by the negligence of the military personnel at the border quarantine sites in mid-April. As doses became available to the public in early April as part of the vaccine rollout, border quarantine measures were being flouted by military personnel, sparking lockdowns by...