Last night, one of our COVID-positive patients, a woman from the recent Makoi cluster, was entered into intensive care after her condition began rapidly deteriorating. I’m sad to report that, despite the best efforts of her attending physicians, she has passed away.
We informed this woman’s family of her passing and offered them our sincere condolences well before making this announcement to the nation, as we wanted them to have time to process this privately. Tonight, I offer the nation my Ministry’s total commitment to spare as many families as we can from the tragedy of seeing loved ones lost to this terrible disease.
This is our second reported death from COVID-19 due to this outbreak. It serves as yet another painful reminder of the severity of the threat that we face. We are dealing with a virus that has claimed more than 3.7 million lives around the world. Many more Fijian lives could all-too-easily add to that sobering figure. But that does not have to happen.
The war against this virus is still winnable. Many thousands of lives can still be saved. Today, tomorrow, and every day after, for all of the foreseeable future, we will tell you what steps you can take to protect yourself and protect the ones you love. Listen often, listen well, and please adhere to every word of the advice we have to give.
Today, we have four new cases of COVID-19 to report.
The first case is from Makoi and presented to Oceania Hospital with symptoms. At this early stage of the investigation this case has no known links to other cases. The Oceania Hospital outpatients department was temporarily closed yesterday for contact tracing and decontamination. Anyone who potentially had contact with this case at the hospital has been quarantined.
The next case is also from Makoi and is an administration staff member of Fiji CDC. According to Fiji CDC protocol he was tested after returning this week from annual leave. The next two cases are administrative staff at the Fiji CDC who had tested negative during routine testing earlier this week, but tested positive as part of contact tracing for this new case.
The three staff who have tested positive for the virus have been transferred to isolation facilities.
Our investigations so far indicate that this cluster originated outside of the Fiji CDC and the virus was then brought in –– as would be an expected consequence of community transmission. Apart from these three cases, all other Fiji CDC staff have tested negative so far, including all of the laboratory and medical staff in the centre.
We know that there was limited contact between administration staff and the lab personnel due to existing protocols, however, as a result of these cases, Fiji CDC has been sequestered, with staff onsite, or placed in quarantine facilities. Testing has temporarily halted while decontamination is being completed. The onsite staff will continue processing samples after decontamination of the facility and they will be tested and retested frequently during their sequestration period, similar to what is happening at Lautoka Hospital.
As for our other active cases, thousands of Fijians received text alerts yesterday alerting them that they may have had contact with some of the new cases confirmed at Extra Supermarket. Our contact tracing investigation has since narrowed that number of contacts, and we have let some of those people know they are no longer considered to be at high risk of exposure –– but I hope that experience has taught everyone how easily even one case can spark an outbreak, and how high the risks of leaving your bubble can be.
It has also taught us how vitally important it is for us all to be using the careFIJI app, with our Bluetooth switched on, whenever we are in public. There are currently 52 known active cases of COVID-19 in the country. From that number of cases, there are already thousands of primary and secondary contacts, stretching my contact tracers to their limit. careFIJI eases that growing burden. Its technology does not depend on the limits of human labour. The app does not get tired. It does not take breaks. It works 24/7 to save your life, and the lives of your loved ones, by stopping the spread of the virus as quickly as possible. It does not drain your battery. It does not burn through your data. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.
Right now, the pandemic in Fiji is only a spark. But if that spark isn’t quickly and aggressively extinguished, a tiny ember is all it takes to start a massive, uncontrollable wildfire that claims thousands of Fijian lives. That’s why we are taking such aggressive measures –– our goal is elimination. We must dedicate everything we have into putting out this flame before it grows.
Yesterday we announced a lockdown of Suva and Nausori to commence from tomorrow night at 11pm until Tuesday morning. Given the rapidly rising number of contacts stemming from new cases of COVID-19 in the Suva-Nausori area, that lockdown has been extended until Wednesday, the 19th of May, at 4am. Fijians living in the Suva and Nausori containment areas are urged to make appropriate preparations for an all-day stay-at-home order which will remain in force from Friday evening, the 14th of May, at 11pm until Wednesday morning, the 19th of May, at 4am.
The rules of the lockdown will be the same as last time. No one should leave their home. No businesses should be open except those given explicit permission to operate. Movement for medical emergencies is the only movement that will be permitted for members of the public. Otherwise, it will be only by the Police, my contact tracers, food ration delivery teams, and other essential service providers, on the streets. No one else.
As I explained yesterday, food rations will be available during the later stages of the lockdown period for Fijians living within the Suva-Nausori Lockdown Zone who have a genuine need for an emergency food supply.
Outside of the lockdown zone, the borders of our other containment areas will remain firmly in place for the foreseeable future. We believe this virus is still circulating in Nadi, in Lautoka, in Rakiraki, in Lami and, potentially, throughout the rest of Viti Levu. As announced yesterday, to further restrict movement, the 6pm until 4am curfew will take effect from this Saturday for the rest of Viti Levu.
While our full freedom of movement must be sacrificed through the lockdown period –– this is a more-than-necessary sacrifice. We are at war with an enemy devoid of mercy. An enemy that preys on the most innocent of exchanges, a maskless conversation, a handshake, a hug. But we have tactics that can defeat this enemy. And we know from experience that going hard, early, can secure us victory.
This virus stays alive by passing from person to person to person. In doing so, it debilitates medical capacity and deals death to those most vulnerable. But this virus needs us, it needs people, in order to survive. Without opportunities to spread to new hosts, the virus dies.
Physical distance –– of at least two metres –– can stop the spread. Masks, when worn widely by everyone, can stop the spread. Good hand washing can kill the virus. But nothing –– I repeat, nothing –– kills the virus more assuredly than staying at home. If everyone stays home, the virus will have nowhere to travel. Eventually, it will die. If everyone respects the rules we have in place, the virus will die.
But on the contrary, if rules are broken, Fijians will die –– not the virus.
In some countries around the world, the public and even, at times, governments, failed to take this virus seriously. They continued on with their normal lives, breaking rules and skirting restrictions. We’re seeing that pattern emerge in Fiji –– and this complacency is unacceptable. Other citizens in some countries waited for a famous celebrity, a sports hero, or more of their loved ones to die from COVID before they recognised the severity of this pandemic. By that point, it was too late.
As we watch news of funeral pyres being burned in India, or mass graves being dug in Brazil, we see that even one case can grow to devastate a country beyond recognition.
Tragedy has already given us a small glimpse into how serious this virus can be –– two lives have already been lost. What will it take for us all to recognise that COVID-19 won’t magically disappear on its own? The death of your favourite rugby player? Your religious leader? Your neighbour? Your mother, your father, your spouse, your brother, your sister, your grandparent, or your children? The power to protect them is in your hands, so wash them often. And please, heed my words: Stay at home. Stay in your bubble. Lockdown or not, home is where you ought to be.
The harder we come down on this virus now, the sooner this will be over. I’ve asked you before, and I’ll ask you again: Keep the faith, Fiji. If you’re running a business that has been closed: Keep the faith that you can open again once it is safe to do so. If you’re running a school: Keep the faith that classrooms can open once we kill-off this virus. If are unable to work: Keep the faith that you will work again once Fiji is COVID-Contained. And if you are working in our hospitals, guarding our containment areas, tracing COVID contacts, or working in our CDC labs, keep the faith that your fellow Fijians are with you, and that they are prepared to make the sacrifices we need to stop the spread and end this outbreak. We are fighting for the sake of normalcy. We are fighting to regain the freedom to live our lives without fear of the virus. We are fighting to allow our economy to operate freely, at its full strength. It’s a fight we can win, but only if we fight it together.