Media statement

PS Health – Press Statement 02-05-2021

Bula Vinaka.

Today –– after another 1212 tests and 7560 community screenings –– we have no new cases of COVID-19 to report in Fiji.

I know many of you may have cheered, or felt excited when I said that. It’s a natural reflex to have. But no confirmed cases –– at this stage –– is no reason for celebration. It doesn’t mean there are no cases out there; it means none have been detected over the past 24 hours. We are certain there are more cases that will develop or –– worryingly –– that an unconfirmed case of the virus has already developed into a highly contagious disease. Our biggest fear right now is that someone, with symptoms, has not reported to a screening clinic or called 158.

This virus arrives in waves. A lull can often signal a surge. So let’s not let one day of no new cases fool anyone into thinking this storm is over. So, I don’t want any news headlines to have “ZERO NEW CASES” blasted out on their platforms. That will accomplish nothing, except for causing more Fijians to let their guards down. This is a matter of when not if, we detect additional cases, so while it is a glimmer of hope, the road ahead is far from clear.

With everyone safely at home, my contact tracing teams have worked tirelessly through the torrential rains this weekend to identify the contacts of case 113 — the garment factory employee. Of her 877 contacts, 95% have been contacted, screened, and swabbed, including all of her closest contacts who shared her bus and worked in close proximity to her at the factory. They will all remain under home quarantine for at least 14 days from their last contact with the case. 611 have tested negative for COVID-19 so far with more samples being tested.

Our progress puts us on track for the lockdown measures to expire at 0400 hours tomorrow morning. That could change if we are unable to find all or most of that missing five percent of contacts, or our testing reveals new, high-risk cases — we will be loud and clear with the public if that happens. But we are confident, at this stage, that we can identify the remaining contacts in Suva and Nausori and lift the lockdown on schedule. However, we’ll let people know by midnight tonight on radio, the Fijian Government Facebook page, or via text message blast, if something changes.

Assuming we stay the course, the Suva-Nausori Lockdown Zone will revert into two separate containment areas, the Suva Containment Area and the Nausori Containment Area, from 0400 hours tomorrow. The borders of the areas are unchanged. The lifting of that lockdown measure will mean that, within these containment areas, movement — for essential purposes only — may resume. Our system of cross-border deliveries of food and essential items into the containment areas will also resume. And supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and other essential businesses — as identified by the Ministry — may operate from tomorrow.

That, as well, is not cause for celebration. It is certainly not an excuse to disregard any of the measures that will remain in place. At its close, the curfew will have lasted 56 hours, Meanwhile, the incubation period for the virus is 336 hours — or two full weeks. That means there is still a very serious risk that new cases may develop, so we must act accordingly.

Do not go outside of your home to meet with friends and family. If you are missing someone, call them. Do not have parties. Reckless celebrations of the end of the lockdown will give us no choice but to recommend another one — so please make smart choices, and spare the nation from that drastic course of action.

I want to be clear on the rules once again:

  • Curfew hours will be from 11pm until 4 am.
  • Everyone should stay home unless they have an essential reason to leave.
  • You should not mix with anyone who doesn’t share your home with you.
  • No sports of any kind should be played.
  • Places of worship will remain closed.
  • Save for small funeral ceremonies, no non-work gatherings of any size should take place. In fact, you should not come within two metres of anyone if you can help it.
  • Anywhere you go outside of your home, you should have on a mask or face covering
  • Wash your hands well and often. Use sanitiser when you see it.
  • Businesses that are not on the list of essential services should not open.
  • You should not share takis, bilos, or cigarettes. Any person-to-person interaction — even a maskless conversation — can put you at risk
  • And please download careFIJI, and keep your Bluetooth switched on when you are in public spaces. This does not chew battery or data.
If we see serious threats to public wellbeing, such as mass crowding, or people outside, in large numbers, without masks being properly worn, we will recommend that a hard lockdown come back into effect.

I would like to caution everyone not to be too quick to ask why we have more stringent measures in Fiji than in other countries. The simple reason is that all countries are at different stages in fighting this pandemic, and each country has to adopt measures based on its own situation. In the United States, for example, more than 100 million adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That is 40% of the adult population. That fact allowed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend to cities and states that they can relax the mandate that people wear masks outdoors IF LOCAL CONDITIONS PERMIT IT. The US CDC was very careful in issuing its guidance, as you can see.

We are not at that point in our immunizations here in Fiji, and we won’t be for some time. And please keep in mind that most places in the USA still require people to wear masks indoors, and that public places and businesses are operating at reduced capacities or entirely outdoors, if they are operating at all. Again, these freedoms are possible only because they have achieved widespread vaccination of their population. Remember, too, that — before they had widespread immunisation through vaccinations — the USA suffered some resurgence of the virus a few months ago–when we were still COVID-contained in Fiji– because some localities had loosened restrictions too early.

I think it would be wise to look also at the tragedy that has befallen India, which saw a sudden resurgence of the virus. That was not all because of the variant; that resurgence occurred because infected people freely mingled with uninfected people. With any variant of the virus, that is a recipe for deadly disaster. And it can happen here if we become complacent–or worse, cynical–about these very important prevention measures.

That applies nationwide. Suva and Nausori are not the only source points of our contact tracing efforts.

The two clusters in Ra are still unlinked to other existing cases. We are pursuing two main leads — one is that the cases are related directly to the quarantine facility breach. Two, that these cases may be rippling out from an individual in Ra who attended the funeral in Tavakubu. If you are this person, or you know this person, please contact the Ministry at 158.

We’re also awaiting the results from Melbourne to confirm a genetic link to other local cases in Fiji. Hopefully that guides our investigation to a link with another chain of transmission. But no matter what the sample tells us, our overarching solution will be the same: We need widespread adoption of our COVID-safe health habits. Not only for a weekend, a week, or even a month — these measures must be kept by everyone, everywhere for the foreseeable future.

One of our source points I’d like to flag with you all today stems from case number 98, the patient who resides in Makoi. Her brother-in-law — who was case number 98 — played rugby in a team that competed at the Malomalo 7s at Lawaqa Park Sigatoka on April 16th-17th. Working with the coaches at the tournament, we’ve contacted most of those he may have had contact with– however, there are still some missing pieces. We’re asking any of the rugby players who played in the Malomalo 7s– who are yet to be contacted by the Ministry — to please call 158.

We are receiving a steady flow of requests for food assistance on the 161 line, text messaging, and through email from families in the Suva-Nausori Lockdown Zone. So far, more than 7,000 food packs have been delivered or are being delivered, and we are committed to assisting every family who genuinely needs this assistance. Our logistics, from the time we receive requests to the point of distribution, are working well. Shipments have been going out all day and are being delivered as I speak.

This lockdown would have gone much differently if the Ministry had been left to manage it on our own. Instead, we had wide reaching support across government. I want to thank the agencies and Ministries who worked with us through the lockdown in lock-step. I also thank the businesses and individuals who came forward to offer assistance to our medical teams in the field. Your support allowed us to focus on the life-saving work at-hand. I also want to thank the Water Authority of Fiji for delaying some of their maintenance work in the Greater Suva Area so that Fijians had reliable access to water through the lockdown.

And thank you to everyone for their cooperation through this lockdown — I know it was far from normal. Nothing will be normal about the coming days, weeks, and months. This is not going to be a quick and easy fight. This virus is relentless, so we must be resolute in our commitment to our science-backed medical measures, to each other, and to the protection of our people through COVID-19 vaccines as that opportunity becomes available to us.  My teams are ready for a long-haul campaign of containment but you must limit your movement to help us succeed — every Fijian must be part of the program. We’re counting on your support and cooperation.

Thank you.