What curfew? Olympic gold lifts spirits in virus-stricken Fiji

Suva (Fiji) (AFP) –


Overjoyed Fijians have brushed aside a strict virus curfew and poured onto the streets of Suva to celebrate Olympic rugby sevens gold in an explosion of song, dance and fireworks.

Children cheered, car horns honked and one older lady's celebratory twerk went viral, after the Pacific nation's rugby heroes vanquished New Zealand 27-12 late on Wednesday to retain the title.

Fijians are obsessed with rugby.

When the team won in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 -- bagging the country's first Olympic medal of any hue -- the celebrations included a national holiday and a commemorative FIJ$7 note (worth US$3.36) issued by the central bank.

During each match of this campaign, every home with a television tuned in, and living rooms were often packed with neighbours who did not have a TV.

A 6 pm curfew is currently in place, aimed at arresting the coronavirus outbreak which erupted in April and has claimed 218 lives with more than 19,000 active cases in isolation.

But when the final whistle blew in Tokyo Stadium and the team ditched stuffy Olympic protocol to belt out a traditional polyphonic song from the podium, a nation erupted.

More than three hours after the curfew began families poured from the houses to dance and sing, banging pots and pans and setting off fireworks.

"Curfew starts at 6pm in Fiji but this is at 9.30pm after Fiji won gold at the #Olympics. What curfew?! Celebrations have started and Fijian people have forgotten about the COVID just for tonight," tweeted Monish Nand, a former government official and now expatriate.

Fiji sevens captain Jerry Tuwai dedicated the win to the "suffering" people back home.

"They won't be thinking about the pandemic now, they'll be celebrating the gold medal," he said.

As Fiji's number-one sport, rugby sevens is considered a unifier in a country that had four coups between 1987 and 2006 due to ethnic and political differences.

The latest success comes against a backdrop of renewed political and ethnic tension over proposed changes to native land laws and an increased security presence in the capital Suva.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the latest victory "was worth more than gold", but there was no immediate word on another national holiday.