Statement by Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Dr Fong.
After running 1910 more tests over the past 24 hours, we have another nine cases of COVID-19 to confirm today.
One of the cases announced yesterday worked at Extra Supermarket in Flagstaff Suva. Three of today’s cases are his co-workers. Extra Supermarket has been closed for decontamination purposes while we await test results from the remaining staff and management.
Extra Supermarket operates with a well-enforced policy of mask-wearing and mandated that all staff and customers have the careFIJI app installed with Bluetooth turned on, or that contact tracing details were registered. That is allowing us to identify hundreds of contacts very quickly.
Without the use of the careFIJI app, tracing individual casual contacts in a place like a crowded supermarket is extremely difficult, especially with our contact tracing teams already working overtime every day to keep up with the cases we have. The careFIJI app will allow contact tracers to see which people have come in close proximity to each other at a specific location. If you have the app on and functioning, our contact tracers can let you know if you have come into contact with an infected person. And I think everyone would want to know that.
While contracting the virus from a casual encounter in which both parties are masked seems rare, we are dealing with a COVID variant that WHO has designated as potentially more contagious, and certainly less predictable.
In addition to our traditional contact tracing, those who have been identified as close contacts by the careFIJI app and the written contact tracing registry, including shoppers, are being contacted by the Ministry. While we reach these people, we are asking everyone who has been to Extra Supermarket in Flagstaff or Hanson’s Supermarket in Makoi in the last two weeks to self isolate. We will announce in due course once everyone on our list has been contacted. Those found to not have had contact with these new cases will be allowed to end their period of self-isolation.
I want to remind anyone who runs out to a grocery store for supplies: Make sure your mask is on, your careFIJI app is installed, and your Bluetooth is switched on while you shop. I note that some supermarkets have online shopping and home delivery services as well –– I urge the public to use them, and I urge more supermarkets and businesses to make online shopping and delivery available.
Adding to our case numbers today are another two individuals presented to the Nausori Health Centre with COVID symptoms. They are family members from Lakena in Nausori. Two of their household contacts have also tested positive for COVID-19. At this early stage of the investigation, these cases are not linked to other clusters.
One of these individuals worked at Nausori market as a vendor, that space is being decontaminated as I speak. As I have said before, we activate our contact tracing teams the moment a positive case becomes known. You may see our response teams on the ground conducting their investigations –– this is something we must all accept as a usual course of business in these unusual times.
Another of our cases is an individual in Nausori, from Vunimono, also tested positive after presenting to the health centre. This case, as well, is not linked to other cases.
So far, none of these six cases in Nausori are currently linked to existing cases. While we are still early into our investigation, we will be treating these cases as instances of community transmission until they are proven to be otherwise.
Our final confirmed case is a border quarantine staff who tested positive for COVID-19 in the course of routine testing. This person’s last negative test result was from 1 May 2021. Our investigations have not pinpointed a source of transmission for this case. Until we know more, we are not allowing any discharges from the quarantine facility in question.
This series of new clusters requires large-scale contact tracing to the magnitude of several hundred primary and secondary contacts. The cluster emanating from Extra supermarket is of particular concern.
However, this cluster is unlike past clusters –– such as the garment factory case –– for one simple reason: careFIJI. The app’s use has given us a huge advantage in identifying the closest contacts stemming from the Extra Supermarket cases. We are already locating them and testing them in droves. We expect many more of these individuals to register positive test results.
We utilised a snap lockdown two weekends ago for contact tracing purposes because –– if everyone remembers –– we had very little idea at that time where to find the contacts we needed to find. careFIJI’s data has supplied us with a much clearer starting point for our contact tracing. So, medically, this situation does not warrant the same, sudden lockdown we implemented in the past.
That doesn’t mean there are not potentially-positive contacts out there we haven’t yet found –– there certainly are, and we need to find them, fast. But thanks to the data we have already obtained, we have the confidence to implement a lockdown over a less sudden timeline.
At the moment, we believe the vast majority of these remaining contacts are located in Suva and Nausori. So that is where a targeted lockdown will come into effect starting from this weekend.
A 24-hour curfew will come into effect for Suva and Nausori from Friday, 14 May 2021 at 11pm until Tuesday, 18 May 2021 at 4am. As is now standard practice, the Suva and Nausori containment areas will merge into one, single lockdown zone. With everyone safely at home, my teams will use that time to trace, identify, and test as many contacts as possible. If our investigations reveal large numbers of contacts in other areas, such as Lami, the lockdown order will extend to those areas.
It is currently 8 pm on Wednesday evening. That means there are more than 48 hours between now and when the lockdown measures take effect. That is more than enough time to prepare properly without causing mass mayhem and disorder. You have two full days to manage your shopping and purchase food and other essential items for your home.
If you are going out to do shopping, you must have careFIJI installed with Bluetooth turned on –– it does not chew data or battery. If you go to the supermarket and see a crowd, do not add to the problem. It could literally endanger your life and the lives of those you love. If you see a crowd, go to a different shop or do your shopping at a different time. Better yet, call 158 and report the violation of COVID protocols. Businesses must take responsibility as well by ensuring mask-wearing, proper physical distancing, and mandating the use of careFIJI by all staff and shoppers.
For those who genuinely need an emergency food supply in the later part of the curfew, we are going to set-up another dedicated hotline for you to call so that food rations can be delivered to you. We’ll have details to announce on that number tomorrow.
New measures will also be coming into effect for the rest of Viti Levu while we conduct assessments on the need for a more sustained lockdown period. From Saturday 15 May 2021, the curfew hours for all of Viti Levu will expand from 6pm until 4am every day. Outside of Viti Levu, the curfew hours will remain from 11pm until 4am.
That means if the lockdown of Suva and Nausori expires on schedule, the curfew hours from 6pm until 4 am will apply in these areas as well.
So, to be perfectly clear: Suva and Nausori are going on full lockdown from Friday night at 11pm until Tuesday morning at 4am –– that means everyone in these areas must stay home. Starting from Saturday night, the rest of Viti Levu will be under expanded curfew hours from 6pm until 4am. For the rest of Fiji, the existing curfew hours from 11pm until 4am will be maintained.
Our contact tracing and testing through the weekend will reveal the way forward for our containment strategy. Whatever course we take, we will provide you with ample notice ahead of time.
I know we saw some panic-buying yesterday. When I see images of those crowds, I see lives being put at-risk. I see the potential for ICUs being filled with dying patients. And I admit, I reacted quite strongly to it. I feared those runs on the supermarkets would lead to widespread transmission of the virus –– I hope to be wrong about that.
These are uncertain times, this is a scary disease, and I understand why some of us have made rash decisions. I understand this situation can make us anxious. I understand the need to have your family well-provided for. But there are real ways we can protect ourselves that align with the best available science and data. We can wear masks, we can keep a proper distance of two metres between ourselves and others, we can wash our hands, we can install careFIJI and keep Bluetooth turned on. Most importantly, we can base our decisions off of verified information. We can wait for the facts as they come out and act accordingly.
We keep the public updated as best we can on a rapidly evolving situation. My statements and the Fijian Government Facebook page are the official sources for all COVID-related information. Use them to stay up-to-date. Rumours, gossip, and unverified information will lead us down a much, much darker path. We must stay the present course by staying calm and staying home as much as possible. If you have an absolutely essential reason to move, wear a mask, maintain physical distance and make sure you have careFIJI installed on your phone with Bluetooth switched on. Let’s make responsible use of the next 48 hours and let’s remember: We are in this fight together. Everything we do as a Ministry, we do for you, for your safety, and for the security of the country.
Eid –– the festive occasion that marks the end of the Holy month of Ramadan –– is tomorrow. Most every year, this is a three-day celebration spent with family and friends; a time for those who celebrate to spend gathered at the same table, and to pray together at the mosque. This year must be different. We cannot gather, not in mosques and not at the homes of our friends and family. We must stay home and only interact with the members of our own households. That sacrifice will assure that all of us ––including those who are most vulnerable to this virus –– can be together when next we have the chance to celebrate. So please, stay home this Eid, please do not break your bubbles. I wish a sincere “Eid Mubarak” to all those marking this joyous occasion safely at home.