SUVA - A "no jab, no job" coronavirus policy went into effect in Fiji on Sunday, with unvaccinated public servants forced to go on leave as the Pacific nation joined a number of countries in imposing similar mandates.
A stubborn outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant that started in April ended a yearlong spell of no community transmission of COVID-19, and has overwhelmed Fiji's healthcare system with more than 40,000 cases.
The government has argued that mandatory vaccinations are necessary to raise immunization rates and end the outbreak.
After a period of forced leave starting Sunday, Fiji's public servants who remain unvaccinated by November will be dismissed.
In addition, employees at private firms could face fines and companies could be forced to stop operations over vaccine refusals.
A growing number of nations are making shots compulsory in critical sectors such as health and public services.
From Canada and the United States to Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia, authorities in a growing number of countries have moved to require workers in hospitals, schools, travel and public services to get a shot or face varying levels of disciplinary action.
Despite intense political opposition in some nations such as France, governments and experts say mass vaccination is one of the most potent weapons to help end the pandemic and end the economic suffering brought by restrictions such as lockdowns.
Legal expert and former head of the Fiji Human Rights Commission Imrana Jalal said other countries had mandated compulsory vaccinations in various critical sectors, but not on the sweeping scale imposed in Fiji.
The island nation's economy has been hammered by the pandemic-induced collapse of the tourism industry, with unemployment soaring as a result.
The government has dismissed the lockdown option because of its high economic cost and rising poverty in the nation of 930,000.
With more than 24,000 still-active cases and 358 deaths, its resources are stretched as military-style field hospitals handle the overflow of patients -- especially after the virus swept through densely populated squatter settlements.
Despite the crisis, authorities are facing deep vaccine skepticism fueled by misinformation spread on social media and by some religious leaders.
They have also been criticized by some opponents who argue that a vaccine mandate is a violation of their rights.
© Agence France-Presse