Since April, Fiji's COVID-19 outbreak has escalated to more than 25,000 cases.
However, in June Fiji began distinguishing between COVID-19 deaths and people who tested positive for the disease but died of other medical conditions.
Michael Baker, a professor of public health at Otago University, said Fiji may be downplaying the pandemic's cost.
“On the face of it, it looks like a government that is actively suppressing testing and suppressing reporting of likely COVID mortality, just from those numbers. And it's just not plausible to have so many people [...] who have died and have an underlying illness and have a COVID-19 positive test result.”
Fiji hasn't made the methodology behind its two death counts public, and the Ministry of Health didn't respond to Pacific Beat's requests for comment.
Dr Baker said the lack of clarity made it hard to understand what was behind the numbers.
However, the World Health Organisation states that there must be a clear alternative cause of death such as trauma to rule that someone with COVID-19 has died of other causes.
Dr Baker said that was unlikely to be the case with so many deaths in Fiji.
The president of Fiji's Medical Association, Basharat Munshi, said Fijians were less likely to take public health guidance seriously if the scale of deaths was downplayed.
John Kaldor, a professor at the University of New South Wales's Kirby Institute, said the unreported deaths were unhelpful, as an accurate death count can help authorities measure how much supportive care like ventilators they need.
Photo source Fijian Government Caption: Field hospital at the National Gymnasium in Suva