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Statement by the Permanent Secretary for Health & Medical Services 

COVID-19 Situation Update

Thursday 24th June 2021

Bula Vinaka.

Our daily case update has been finalised for today. As expected, we have another increase in the daily case total. As of 8am this morning, 308 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed.

297 cases are from the Lami-Nausori Containment Zone, and 11 are from Tramline Nadi. 218 of the cases in Lami-Suva-Nausori are from existing areas of interest. This includes 153 cases from Qauia in Lami. 12 cases are from new areas of interest that include: Goodman Fielder, Gounder Shipping, Nausori Police Barracks, and St. Giles Hospital. The remaining cases are contacts of known cases, or cases that were seen in screening clinics and were swabbed. A full breakdown is being published online. The distribution of new cases can also be seen on the map provided on the Ministry’s COVID-19 dashboard. Please note that –– in the interest of safeguarding patient privacy –– locations of cases on the map indicate the general area a case comes from and are not exact.

The Gounder Shipping crew have been isolated. In accordance with our shipping crew protocol, any unloading of freight will take place in areas that are clearly demarcated so there are no interactions between the crew and others, including people on the ground in Vanua Levu and the outer islands. Crew are not permitted to disembark in Vanua Levu nor in the islands and these protocols have been and will continue to be strictly enforced by the Police, my teams, and the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji. Be assured that we have not yet facilitate movement of anyone from Viti Levu to the Vanua Levu or the outer islands. We’ll have specific details on these cases in tomorrow’s daily update.

A patient who tested positive for COVID-19 has also died. This is a 63 year old male who presented to the FEMAT hospital on 22 June, tested positive and was then referred to CWM Hospital. This death is being investigated by doctors at CWM Hospital to determine if it was caused by COVID-19.

There are currently seven severe cases of COVID-19 admitted at CWM Hospital. Two of the nine patients in severe condition reported yesterday are doing better and are no longer classified as severe.

The metrics that my teams assess on a regular basis all indicate that we will see higher increases in daily case numbers in the near-term. I want to make sure we understand how that impacts our response and recommendations to the government.

First, I believe some of us –– including those in the media –– need a better grasp of what we mean when we say “lockdown” in Fiji. We are not in Australia and we are not in New Zealand. A lockdown –– in the Fijian context –– means a 24-hour curfew. It means no movement for any purposes except for medical emergencies. No shopping. No going out to get food. No going for a walk. No nothing –– it means total lockdown. Other countries have not done that. Australia and New Zealand have never done that. So to say that many other countries have done a strict lockdown is not correct. Few, if any countries, have locked down in the same manner that Fiji has locked down. Here we have a different system and the word “lockdown” signals a much stricter policy. Instead of going for that strict lockdown option, movement in Fiji has been restricted for essential purposes and a curfew takes effect from 6pm until until 4am every day. Anywhere else in the world that alone would constitute lockdown. And in many other places in the world,  measures similar to those have worked well to reduce the spread of the virus. Why has it worked? Two words: Public compliance.

We have not advised the government to enforce a 24-hour curfew for 28 days for Viti Levu. If I believed there was a medical case to be made for a 24-hour curfew for 28 days for all of Viti Levu, I’d advise the Prime Minister directly. I have his number. He sits across from me in our briefings. I have not done that because, medically, we do not believe a 24-hour curfew for 28 straight days would work. So I hope that puts a definitive end to the social media speculation. If you have time to tweet or post on Facebook, don’t dedicate your platform to disinformation. Please emphasise the importance of our health measures; the measures that are proven to stop the spread of the virus.

The reason we have not recommended four full weeks of a 24-hour curfew is that given the track record of poor public compliance, we cannot guarantee that we’d see compliance everywhere in the country and therefore we simply do not have the capacity to enforce such a strict lockdown everywhere on Viti Levu. The tragic reality is that Fijians living in communities most vulnerable to the virus –– including those in informal settlements –– are also those most vulnerable to the socioeconomic catastrophe that a 24-hour lockdown for 28 days would bring about. Even under such a strict lockdown, we believe the virus would continue to circulate within many of these communities. We believe individuals would attempt to leave these communities and some would succeed. We believe that after 28 days of a 24-hour curfew and the untold hardship it would bring for Fijians, we’d still see new cases on day 29. There are no easy choices at this stage, but some choices are still smarter than others. And we believe there is a better and smarter way forward than a 28-day total lockdown.

Instead, we are dedicating personnel where the risks are greatest and we are allowing for some essential movement so that people can get food, get medicine and go to work so long as they wear masks, keep a safe distance from others, and make sure they have the careFIJI app switched on. If that freedom is abused, the virus will spread. If the rules are respected, we believe transmission can be reduced dramatically. Respect the rules, we win. Ignore them, we all lose –– big time.

There is a young woman in the ICU right now suffering from a severe case of COVID-19. She’s 30 years old. Don’t think being young makes you immune. The highly contagious Delta variant present in Fiji has been described as the “fittest and the fastest” variant in the world. Don’t trifle with it. Anyone can be seriously impacted by this virus –– and this variant.

If you won’t respect those rules for yourselves, please do it for those most vulnerable. One thing that deeply concerns me and my teams is the high rate of Fijians living with NCDs. These medical conditions ––like diabetes and hypertension–– contribute to higher rates of mortality from COVID-19. Many of these Fijians were among the first we vaccinated. But until all of these Fijians are fully-vaccinated, we have to take extreme precautions to protect them, especially those living within areas of concern.

To make sure these Fijians continue to access life-sustaining medication, we’ve established a telehealth for Fijians living with non-communicable diseases that will open for the Western and Central divisions from next Monday and be available Monday through Friday from 9am until 4pm. The number is 165. If you need access to your NCD treatment medication, please call us from Monday next week.

We will arrange for you to be able to pick your medication up from safe points or have them delivered by mobile teams if you are living in an area under a targeted containment programme.  The helpline  will be monitored and evaluated for calls received  to ensure assistance  is completed, all the way through to the delivery of the medication.

I want to make another important point. Wearing a mask is an excellent defense against contracting the virus –– but it is not the only protection that matters. Masks, on their own, can only do so much. They do not make you invincible. They can’t protect you well if you’re hugging someone or breathing over their shoulder in line at the supermarket. The same applies to maintaining physical distance –– it helps, but it only offers a certain level of protection. But when we follow all of these measures together they work extremely well. When we wear masks, maintain a physical distance of two metres, and make sure to wash our hands often and thoroughly, we dramatically reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. We should all do all of these things whenever we are outside of our homes. If we do, the virus has a much, much harder time moving –– even when we move.

As announced earlier today by the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, we have sought the service of general practitioners to offer non-COVID healthcare to patients who usually seek care from the public healthcare system. Starting on Monday next week in Nadi, Lautoka, and Ba and the Lami-Nausori Corridor these GPs and their private clinics will be open free-of-charge to patients who otherwise would have sought care at a public hospital.  These GP services include consultations, reviews, referrals, injections, dressings, and other minor treatments, all of which will be available from Monday next week to the public. We’ll publish the full details of the doctors and the locations of their clinics on the Fijian Government Facebook page tonight –– they may be uploaded already.

We’re also outsourcing the supply of groceries and household items for Fijians in targeted lockdown zones and under home isolation to two supermarkets in Fiji –– New World and Shop N Save –– which will free up valuable time for my teams to focus on direct medical matters. The full list of items that will be provided will be published on the Fijian Government Facebook page as well.

Today our vaccination teams administered the second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to His Excellency the President and the Honourable Prime Minister –– both of whom have encouraged every eligible Fijian to follow their lead in protecting themselves from COVID-19. Many others have done the same –– we thank them all. I want to remind everyone receiving their second dose of the vaccine that it takes two weeks after the second dose for the full benefits of immunity to set in.

We are very fortunate to have these vaccines available and on the way. Our target population for vaccinations is just over 586,000 adults and we are aiming to vaccinate as many of those Fijians as possible as quickly as those vaccines arrive. When we have achieved adequate levels of immunity, we can begin relaxing restrictions and allow for the possibility of international travel to Fiji.  Until that day, we must practice strict adherence to the health measures like mask-wearing, handwashing, and physical distancing. In fact, many of the adjustments we’re making now will always be with us. This pandemic has changed the world, it will change Fiji as well. Being left behind from those changes means leaving ourselves vulnerable, and we cannot allow that.

We have vaccinated 299,202 individuals with at least one dose, which represents 45% of our target population. Of that number, 32,766 individuals are now fully-vaccinated. In the last three days we have deployed 14,730 doses. The Rewa and Nausori medical subdivision and the Ba medical subdivision are leading the way in terms of vaccine coverage –– with 70% and 81% of their target populations having received at least one dose of the vaccine, respectively.

I am extremely proud of the medical teams and the community at large for achieving these high coverage rates. But our work is not done. Our mission is to fully-vaccinate every eligible Fijian. There are people in intensive care as I speak due to COVID-19 and our doctors and nurses are going to every possible length to care for them. The more vaccines we administer, the more Fijians we keep out of ICUs and in the arms of the families that love them. Morally, medically, vaccines are the right choice for all of us.

We currently have at least 100,000 doses for ongoing deployment and more vaccines are coming in. One day and one dose at a time, we will be offering the protection they provide across every corner of Fiji.

Thank you.

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