Through Operation Fiji Assist and HMAS Adelaide, the ADF showed it could provide international humanitarian disaster relief even during a global pandemic.

CAPTION: Lieutenant Nicholas Ilijas conducts a COVID-19 test in HMAS Adelaide as part of the COVID-19 safety protocols for Operation Fiji Assist. Photo by Corporal Dustin Anderson.

Fiji Assist was the ADF’s response to a request for assistance by the Fijian government in December 2020, after Tropical Cyclone Yasa caused extensive damage to the island of Vanua Levu and other parts of Fiji.

Adelaide’s Senior Health Officer Lieutenant Commander Roneel Chandra said strict COVID-19 testing was the key to a successful operation.

“Ensuring the taskgroup was COVID-safe for the Fijian government is what gave us the green light to move forward and provide support on the ground in Fiji,” Lieutenant Commander Chandra said.

Two Bio Fire COVID testing machines and a GeneXpert machine allowed this to happen.

“Having these machines and procedures in place allowed us to keep progressing this mission,” Lieutenant Commander Chandra said.

“Once a swab is gathered, we’re assured in just 45 minutes that any flu-like symptoms aren’t COVID.

“Without [that testing capability and our adherence to the Fijian government’s COVID -19 quarantine requirements], we wouldn’t have been able to get the Fijian people up and going again.”

Lieutenant Commander Chandra said military precision played an integral role when testing all 619 members aboard the ship.

“Everyone knew what they had to do on the sixth day testing activity,” he said.

“Coordinating the movement of more than 600 swabs through Adelaide, three MRH-90s, and a C-17 Globemaster over 20 hours back to Australia was quite a complex plan.

“Success was literally down to just 15 minutes’ difference.”

With the completion of Operation Fiji Assist, Adelaide begins her journey home to Australia – but the work does not stop for the ship’s medical team.

Lieutenant Commander Chandra said supporting a country in need during a pandemic, while maintaining COVID safety, was a great achievement by everyone on the deployment.

“If we drop the ball on COVID testing on the way back or if our quarantine time is questioned it could potentially risk us stepping ashore,” he said.

“We all want to see our family and friends that we missed over Christmas and the New Year.”