Statement by Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services, Dr James Fong.
We’ve screened an additional 25,064 Fijians through our mobile screening teams and at screening clinics since yesterday. And after another 1026 tests, we have confirmed two new cases of COVID-19.
They are the 5-year-old and the 15-year-old daughters of the mother from Cunningham. Both cases were confirmed in isolation, and their first tests were negative, that means they do not pose a risk to the public and bear no implication on our existing programme of contact tracing.
I have spoken before on the life-or-death importance of Fijians of all ages adhering to the protocols we’ve established, and I can now give you a concrete example of why that is so important and how serious the risk is. The entire family of the person in Cunningham who contracted COVID-19 has also contracted the virus– seven household members in total. Let that be a lesson in how transmissible this variant is and how vital it is that measures are followed by everyone. These measures don’t just protect you. They protect the people you love. They protect your neighbors. And they protect everyone you might come in contact with.
We’re nearly 24 hours into our lockdown of Suva and Nausori. This is not only the most drastic health measure in our toolkit — we’re hoping it will be the most decisive. We generally prefer more targeted measures, and we’ll be able to implement them once we have a handle on chains of transmission. Right now, a lockdown is the prescription that Suva and Nausori need.
I want to assure everyone that your time at home is being put to use saving lives. My teams are making the most of this opportunity to trace and test high-risk contacts of existing cases to break these chains of transmission before they become unmanageable and consume the country.
As I mentioned yesterday, there are 877 contacts of case 113 — the garment factory worker — which are split between two factories: Lyndhurst and Mark One Apparel.
Our lockdown got off to a wet start last night, which did hinder our contact tracing and swabbing throughout Suva and Nausori, but we’re rapidly making up that ground. We have identified all 877 contacts of case 113, — these are individuals who travelled with her on the same bus and who worked with her in close proximity.
Of the 877 total contacts, 833 have been screened and swabbed. 477 have tested negative with the remaining samples due to be tested. All primary contacts will be retested during their mandatory 14 days of quarantine, which begins from their last contact with the case. More samples have been received from today’s contact tracing. Tomorrow, we will know whether or not our testing reveals that the lockdown will arrive at its scheduled conclusion at 0400 hours on Monday morning.
To ease the economic hardship of the lockdown, trucks carrying 5,000 food ration packs were loaded and shipped throughout the Suva-Nausori Lockdown Zone before sunrise today. They are currently making delivery runs to families with a genuine need for food supply.
Our COVID-19 Food Ration hotline went live this morning. We received 100,000 calls as of noon today. I was disappointed to learn that we had several members of the same households inundating the number with calls. We were clear yesterday — food is distributed on a household-by-household basis. Attempts to game the system only succeed at delaying the delivery of food to Fijians with a genuine need. That selfishness has serious consequences for those who need this assistance.
We have an e-mail address available to help divert some of the call volume. If you can use e-mail, please do — it is the fastest way our teams can get into contact with you. You can send your name, address, the number of people in your household, and your mobile number to firstname.lastname@example.org Our teams will follow-up with you as soon as they can.
Our Ra Containment Area was established yesterday, which limits movement in the province, but does allow for essential businesses to remain open. We have not locked down Ra at this stage. However, our investigations into the two unconnected clusters in the province may require more stringent measures in the near future. For now, Fijians within that containment should be on high-alert. Anyone outside of your home should be treated as a potential COVID-positive patient. You are safest at home, and that is where you should stay. If you need to leave, wear a mask, keep your distance from others, and keep careFIJI switched on at all times. If you do not have careFIJI installed, you shouldn’t leave the house. Install it onto your phone, or send someone to do your shopping who does have the app.
I want to make an appeal to our rural communities. I think sometimes we think our remoteness can protect us, but remoteness provides no protection when people are circulating through the country. A number of communities have taken the step of adopting lockdown measures of their own. This is a prudent and responsible action under the current circumstances. So I encourage all of our rural and maritime communities to restrict travel into your communities if you can. This one measure can go a long way toward keeping your communities safe.
I would now like to turn to the subject of vaccinations. Widespread vaccinations among the Fijian public are absolutely critical to controlling this virus, ending this pandemic and keeping Fijians safe.
I have gone over this before, but we have members of the media who insist on asking us nearly every day about the efficacy of vaccines. I have said it before, I will say it again — no one in Fiji is fully vaccinated. You need two doses of these vaccines to be fully vaccinated, and then need to wait an additional two weeks for its full response within your immune system to take effect. Only once every Fijian — who is eligible — achieves that level of immunity, will Fiji truly be safe from this deadly virus.
We expect 64,800 of the 100,800 doses pledged by COVAX to arrive by June. Kia ora to our friends in New Zealand who have pledged half a million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Fiji. We have received 100,000 doses from India and expect to receive the first shipment of 10,000 doses from Australia as early as next week, with other shipments arriving monthly.
We are grateful for the commitments we have received for vaccines so far, but they are not enough, nor are they coming soon enough, and we are working with our international partners on new commitments. Our current commitments can cover 484,000 Fijians, and we need to cover 650,000. With an outbreak already upon us — the urgency of achieving widespread immunity grows daily.
I know the prospect of vaccines that are weeks away at best don’t ease the difficulty that our health measures pose today. It is not easy to give up the normal activities of daily life and remain at home, but if we all make this effort, we can stop this virus once again and return to those normal activities–to go to work, see family and friends, do our shopping, play sports. As I have said, we would not take this step, if there were any other effective action available to us.
No government can defeat this virus alone. It takes the effort of an entire nation to stop it in its tracks, and that means that every Fijian depends on every other Fijian to do their part in our lockdown zone, in our containment areas, and all across Fiji. This is like a war. Defeat is unthinkable, and compromise is impossible. We have to win, and we will win. And we will need everyone’s best effort.
When it comes to COVID, staying at home is the safest course for all of us — but in Fiji and around the world, we know there is an ugly side to lockdown measures. Without proper resources and support, they can make the already-vulnerable more vulnerable than ever. Our Hon Prime Minister has called domestic violence an ugly scourge on our society. He is absolutely right. And during a crisis, we know these horrific crimes can occur more often. Someone, right now, is stuck at home with an abuser — that is a tragic reality that we cannot turn away from.
So I’m urging everyone, if you, or someone you know, is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline number 1560, or the child helpline at 1325. Help will come to you. You can call at any time, any day of the week, to report a crime. Even if you just need someone to talk to, call either of those numbers. That applies for children, for women, and for men as well.
Anyone can be a victim, and that support is available to any who need it.
Anyone can be a victim, and that support is available to any who need it.
There are so many people and organisations supporting us, I cannot thank them all today. But I did want to give a special vinaka vakalevu to the Psychiatric Survivors Association for helping us feed and screen the homeless. Not everyone has a home to stay in, but everyone deserves to have their health taken seriously. So thank you, PSA.
I do have some good news that I thought I’d save for the end. Three of our active cases    have recovered, have been discharged from isolation, and are heading home to their families.
Some of our patients in isolation at the moment do fall within high-risk categories for severe illness, and we are monitoring them closely. But so far, all of our existing cases are in stable condition. If this virus gets out of control, we will not be so lucky. To keep any more of the most vulnerable members of society out of isolation and out of ICUs, it’s vital we stay the course of our containment effort. Lives depend on it. There is no nobler reason for us to unite behind doing what must be done. STAY HOME, BE SAFE, SAVE LIVES.