Statement by Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Dr James Fong.
Earlier today we announced that we will not be implementing a full lockdown of the Suva area this weekend. That advice stands. All existing restrictions –– including the closure of non-essential businesses and the 11pm until 4am curfew –– will remain in effect, and the current containment area borders are unchanged.
No lockdown simply means we will not be enforcing a 24-hour curfew. That does not grant a license to anyone to leave their homes without an essential reason. Home is still the safest place to be, as our testing over the past 24 hours has proved the virus is very much present in our communities.
After another 1349 tests, we have confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19.
All are local cases. The first is a 30-year-old woman from Field 4 Lautoka who presented to the Kamikamica Health Centre with severe COVID-19 symptoms, she had been sick for three weeks. She has been admitted to the Lautoka hospital isolation unit and the members of her household have been quarantined.
This patient did have some contact with medical officers and nurses within the health centre, which requires us to temporarily close the centre to the public. However, the level of exposure among our clinical staff is not as extensive as was the case for Lautoka Hospital. We expect the centre to re-open to the public following a thorough decontamination exercise.
Our second case is a 20-year-old woman who presented to the Makoi Screening clinic with COVID symptoms. Investigations have revealed that she had contact with the household of the Makoi family cluster but was not identified as a contact at the time. She has been entered into isolation along with her household members. Three of her household members have since tested positive for the virus.
This case again highlights how important it is for everyone to download the CareFiji app. Some of our recent cases have shown us just how unreliable a person’s memory can be during a contact tracing investigation –– and those gaps have cost us dearly.
The 6th case is a 26 year old male, and is the husband of a previously announced local case (case 75) from Kerebula Nadi . He has been in a border quarantine facility in Nadi since April 18th and does not pose any transmission risk to the public.
The 7th case is a 35 year old male from Saru, Lautoka who presented with symptoms at Natabua health centre. He and his household contacts are being taken into isolation.
The recent cases from Lautoka and Suva are troubling –– as they point to wider transmission in these areas. In response, we have to widen our approach, and we have taken some important steps to enlist the private sector as part of a whole-of-society containment effort.
To increase quarantine quality and capacity, we will be using several of Suva’s hotels and motels as quarantine centers for primary contacts of new cases.
To lighten the patient load on our healthcare facilities –– as we are doing in the West –– private general practitioners in the Suva-Nausori-Lami corridor will soon offer non-COVID-related treatments and consultations to those Fijians who normally cannot afford to visit a private practitioner. Government will directly pay the private practitioners for the treatment and consultations provided for such people.
For those under home quarantine orders, we will be outsourcing grocery delivery services to private companies. That means that government will directly engage private companies to deliver groceries to the families under stay-at-home orders.
This engagement of the private sector is being done in conjunction with the Ministry of Economy. Bringing these companies on board does more than lend efficiency, it allows businesses in Fiji to earn money and re-ignite employment and hiring. Quarantine centres will be in more hygienic facilities that are better run and more comfortable for patients. Fijians will have more options for medical treatments and consultations. The pace and efficiency of grocery deliveries will step-up. Government, of course, will fund these activities –– but it’s the private sector that will manage them, allowing my teams to focus their energy and resources entirely on matters directly related to the containment of the virus. This is a model that has been adopted and is working well overseas throughout the pandemic.
Our investigations have also revealed more about case 128 –– the nurse who works in Raiwaqa health centre. All 37 staff of the centre have tested negative. Following decontamination, we expect to re-open the facility to the public.
The nurse had received her first dose of the vaccine. However, everyone needs to complete the full dosage regime –– meaning two doses –– to achieve full protection from the virus.
She had careFIJI installed and kept it running while she was away from her home and at work. She has told us she was diligent about mask-wearing. This is a positive sign, though we are still aggressively tracing her movements and identifying those she had contacted.
Her husband, who is case number 129, also had careFIJI installed, though for the most part he did not travel. He spent most days at home –– which is a very good thing. By mostly staying home, it’s likely he’s cut-off his own chain of transmission before it had a chance to begin.
The couple reside together in Kinoya with no other household members. We have not linked either case to other patients. There are a few points of interest in the nurse’s travel history, but none are definitive as a source point of transmission.
In response to these clusters, our mobile screening teams will be targeting the Makoi, Kinoya, Saru and Raiwaqa areas over the next several days.
I hope everyone is familiar with the screening procedure by now. My teams will go house-to-house checking individuals for COVID-like symptoms and asking simple questions to determine the travel history of Fijians in the area. Public honesty and cooperation are the keys to the success of this operation. The results of the screening exercise will determine the need for a larger, more stringent lockdown. That is a measure of absolute last resort that will be taken if –– and only if –– the data we obtain provide us with no other medical recourse. I know these new cases may serve as a shock to many of us –– but they are evidence that our mobile and stationary screening exercises are actually working. So we will continue to rely on these methods for flushing cases from the community.
Though I must also say that with every new case we are stretching our contact tracing and testing capacity even further. Though we are testing record numbers of samples every day, and testing is happening at five Ministry laboratories across Fiji, we are concerned that we are seeing delays in turnaround of some test results – though not for priority samples. We have improved the situation with receipt of new machines (with more expected), and the engagement of additional staff. However, any delay is worrying because we need results of tests as soon as possible in order to identify cases quickly and launch an effective response. Therefore, we will now be resetting our testing strategy to target our containment areas of Suva, Nausori, Lami, Nadi, and Lautoka and Ra – while areas outside of these zones will stop mass testing and revert to the testing protocol in place prior to the outbreak. We must use all our resources to take the fight to where we know the outbreak is happening. Now is a critical time.
I’m sure more than a few of you listening are keen to know whether or not there is a case in your area. You should assume there already is one. You should act as if there already is one. In fact, you should assume that you yourself have already been exposed to COVID-19.
Cases of unknown origin in Fiji are rising daily. That means we have unknown infected individuals among the public who could still be highly contagious. Those infected people could already be in your community, on the bus you ride, in the supermarket you shop at, or at your place of work–– that is why every Fijian must take every possible measure to limit their chance of being infected or infecting others. Wear a mask, maintain physical distance, install careFIJI and keep Bluetooth switched on, cough in your elbow or in a tissue that you immediately discard, avoid physical contact with anyone else if you can help it, and if you feel unwell, visit a screening clinic or call 158. The earlier you can be diagnosed the safer you are, the safer your loved ones are, and the safer we all are.
I want to prepare everyone for the fact that we may be entering a stage of outbreak where it is no longer useful to state the details of every new case we confirm. We will always inform the public on the number of active cases in the country and provide necessary details to help with contact tracing, but if we start seeing larger numbers of cases in different parts of Viti Levu, our priority will be on giving prompt and accurate information on the broader outlines of the situation at that time, along with any vital information people may need to stay safe.
Yesterday we announced that non-essential businesses outside of the containment areas should close. To be clear, that was a request. All non-essential businesses are recommended to close, but only the closure of high-risk businesses, such as gyms, movie theatres, video gaming shops, cyber cafes, taverns, bars, billiard shops and amusement arcades, as well as hairdressers, barber shops, spas, beauty therapy, massage therapy venues, saunas and tattoo parlours, will be enforced by the police. As I’ve mentioned before –– maintaining a safe physical distance within these sorts of businesses simply isn’t possible.
And, as I covered yesterday, private clinics in Nadi, Lautoka, and Ba will soon offer government-funded treatment and consultations to members of the public seeking Non-COVID care. I want to thank the Doctors who have stepped forward. Once the contracts are finalised, we will announce those who have stepped up to work with us. As I mentioned earlier, this same arrangement will soon apply to Suva, Lami and Nausori.
As we go forward, we will have to take measures to ensure that this disease will not cause disruption of functions that are critical to the nation’s welfare and security. Critical assets like health facilities, water, power, telecommunications, agriculture, banking and others will have to establish procedures to prevent infection from spreading among staff. That means they will have to work in isolated, self-contained units–” bubbles,” if you will–in order to minimize the number of staff members who come into direct contact with each other. Anyone who can work remotely will have to do so. We urge all businesses to take measures to minimize contact among staff members. Employees who must work closely together should remain within their group, or bubble, and not interact directly with other employees. We will be issuing specific guidelines to assist businesses.
We are aware that a number of people have been displaced from their homes due the establishment of containment areas across Viti Levu, starting in Nadi-Lautoka on April 19th. There are currently six containment areas across Viti Levu: Nadi, Lautoka, Rakiraki, Nausori, Suva and Lami. From 4am tomorrow morning until 11pm Sunday those on Viti Levu who are currently outside of the containment area they live in will be allowed to return to their homes. This includes those who are stuck in one containment area but who need to move to another containment area in which they reside and those in a non-containment area who need to move into a containment area. This is a window for one-way travel only. Those who enter a new containment area will not be allowed to leave until such time that the containment area borders relax. As you travel, police will be taking contact tracing information at each border point to assist should you be considered a person of interest. I know there are some people within a containment area who are looking to move to a non-containment area –– we will work out separate dates for you. Please note that these movements –– once approved –– will be limited to Viti Levu.
My friends, we have already lost one life to this outbreak. There is still time to save many more. Today, our COVID-safe habits are the best defense we have. Tomorrow, and through the coming weeks and months, more Fijians will have the opportunity to protect themselves through vaccines, and we can build more meaningful, long-term resilience to this virus. We have administered more than 24,000 doses from the latest COVAX shipment of vaccines. Another 21600 doses were received from COVAX last night. Also, 10k doses arrived in Fiji last night from Australia, the first of many monthly instalments. Vinaka to the Australian government and people – we wish them a speedy containment of some new community cases in Sydney.
To-date we have administered more than 93,000 first dose of COVID-19 vaccines, surpassing our timelines on numerous occasions This month, we will start administering the second doses of vaccines in line with the proper dosage timeline for 6,000 of our frontliners –– making them the first fully-vaccinated Fijians. In the interest of protecting everyone, we’ll have details to announce about the next deployment schedule of vaccines tomorrow.
This outbreak is far more serious than anything we faced last year –– but thanks to these vaccines, the light at the end of this tunnel has never shone brighter. Keep the faith, Fiji. Keep faith in the science, keep faith in each other. Stay strong, stay safe, and let’s stay the course together.