I want to start today by thanking our sign language interpreter, Loriani Baledrokadroka, for helping us get our important announcements to everyone who needs to understand them. I’ve seen some comments online asking why she isn’t wearing a mask during these announcements. Some of you may not know it, but facial expressions are an important part of sign language –– As I explained yesterday, I need to be understood clearly by the public, that is why I am not speaking through a mask. The same applies to her. Vinaka, Loriani.
At the start of this outbreak, our projected cap for COVID-19 testing was 600 tests a day, which was already more than double our average daily rate. It’s clear that was an under-estimate of what your healthcare heroes can do. In a 24-hour marathon testing exercise, we have run more than 1,000 COVID-19 tests –– a single day record. And we are acquiring more GeneXpert machines to bolster that capacity.
We do have some good news to share today –– we found our last minibus driver. He is safely quarantined at home and will be tested. Now we are just looking for the passengers of that minibus that travelled from the Lautoka minibus stand to Nadi at 5.30pm on Saturday April 17th. The minibus is white, it has a red painted front bumper with license plate number LM417. A photo of the minibus has been posted on the Fijian Government Facebook page and released to the media. If you rode in this minibus from Lautoka to Nadi that night, please call 158.
As of this afternoon, we have no new cases of COVID-19 to report at the border or in the community. That means we are still at 19 active cases (14 border quarantine cases and 5 locally transmitted cases). The three Fijians living on Moturiki we suspected may have been exposed to the virus have all tested negative for COVID-19. We are going to maintain the island as a containment area until the 14-day incubation period expires. However, these test results do confirm that these three Fijians were not contagious while they travelled to Moturiki from Lautoka, so Waicoka village in Tailevu ––where they stayed overnight ––is no longer considered a screening zone.
I want to start today’s brief by thanking those of you who are wearing masks in public –– and wearing them properly. That choice you’ve made is the best way you can honour the hard work of the Ministry to stop this virus from crippling Fiji and threatening the lives of our people. But more Fijians must follow your example –– otherwise our carelessness will cost us dearly.
Masks can be bought and they can be made. Homemade masks –– with at least two-layers of cloth –– offer some protection from spreading and contracting this virus. We have guidance about what your mask can and should look like on the Fijian Government Facebook page and we will advertise that guidance over radio. So, whether they are bought or made at home, there is no excuse for anyone in Fiji not to have a face-covering every time they leave the house.
If you are wearing your mask below your nose, it is no longer a mask, it is a mouthguard. The mask has to cover your nose and mouth to keep you and those around you safe. Seriously, a mask worn below the nose is hardly different than wearing no mask at all. This is not a box-ticking exercise. You shouldn’t only be wearing a mask because we have asked you to wear one –– you should wear a mask because you don’t want the virus and you don’t want to pass the virus on to others. Some of us may feel young and invincible. You aren’t. You –– or most certainly someone you love –– could contract COVID and end up in an ICU. Worse still, you could die. It’s happened around the world. Listen well, and act now. Don’t let personal tragedy be your teacher.
I’ve seen the images of crowded bus stands that have put well-founded fear in the hearts of many Fijians. These maskless crowds are hotspots waiting to happen. As we’ve seen, all it takes is one person at a funeral to ignite an outbreak. Just the same, all could it take is one maskless person on a bus or minibus to turn that vehicle into a super-spreader event on wheels. The same goes for bus stands, supermarkets, and shops.
That is why, from tomorrow, we are requiring mask-wearing on all public transportation.
All bus drivers, minibus drivers and taxi drivers must wear masks, and they should not allow riders who don’t wear a mask to enter their vehicles. LTA officers will be monitoring all public transportation––drivers who are not wearing masks won’t be allowed to drive. Passengers who are not wearing masks will be removed from public transport vehicles. If abuse is repeated, the LTA will stop some of these public transport vehicles altogether.
Masks work best when everyone wears them. But they are not a substitute for physical distancing. As much as possible, we must still keep two-metres of space between us and others, even when we are wearing masks. Buses and minibuses should also ensure strict physical distancing among passengers. That will not be convenient, we know that, but it is necessary. If this virus takes hold in our community, no one will be driving anyone, anywhere –– drivers and transportation operators must make this sacrifice now or they won’t be operating at all.
For all other businesses, customers should not be allowed to enter the premises unless they are masked. And the staff of these businesses should be leading by example by wearing masks and wearing them properly. The same restrictions apply here: We will shut down businesses that are not enforcing mask-wearing for customers and employees. And for all businesses and in all public transportation vehicles, all patrons must also have careFIJI downloaded on their phones and must keep it switched on. If they don’t have a phone, their contact tracing details must be registered.
Since yesterday, we’ve had 20,000 more downloads of careFIJI –– we still need more. I understand there are more than 600,000 smartphones in Fiji. Every one of them should have the careFiji app installed –– the efficiency of large-scale contact tracing depends on it.
As we head into the weekend, we’ll be limiting movement as much as possible. We know Saturday is a big market day. Everyone who goes to the market must wear a mask, and we are working with municipal councils to manage markets as safely as possible. Anyone who needs food, money, or medicine, can shop for it at supermarkets, open-air markets, banks, and pharmacies. Aside from those life-sustaining reasons, we need everyone to please stay home. Curfew hours will remain the same. However, the Fiji Police Force will be enforcing restricted movement across Viti Levu from tomorrow evening, Saturday April 24th, at 1900 hours, until Monday morning at 0400 hours, the 26th of April. Please spend this time at home. Pray at home. Eat at home. Fast at home. Celebrate with household members within your home this weekend. Stay home, save lives. If there is any message I’m asking Fijians to help me share through the weekend, it is that: Stay home, save lives.
If these protocols are ignored, or if our testing reveals additional cases, I will be forced to recommend a complete lockdown, in particular for the Suva, Nausori and Lami corridor. If we all follow the rules, that won’t need to happen. Do not treat this virus lightly –– Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands often, and think very carefully about leaving your home, or else we’ll all be home all the time.
Someone watching right now may have COVID. If they stay still, the virus stays still. If they move, the virus will move with them and spread to others. That is why we should stay within our homes and only interact with the members of your households.
While you stay indoors surrounded by the comfort of family, my teams will use this window to run the widest-reaching screening effort we have ever conducted. Suva mobile screening starts tomorrow with all 50 households within the screening zone established on Cunningham Road. We’ve already screened more than 20,000 Fijians in the West. That effort will press ahead through the weekend. 40 screening clinics are open across the country to all those who believe they may be experiencing COVID-like symptoms. There are cases out there –– we have to find them. So if you feel unwell, please come forward, be screened, be protected.
When my teams are in your community, please be honest with them about how you are feeling and where you have been. They know what they are doing –– they have been through this before. Trust them. Support them. Cooperate with them. If they are in your community, they are there because they care about keeping you safe. I can tell you we would all prefer to be at home with our families. Instead, we are defending yours. That is our duty. That is what we will do every hour of every day to keep this virus from claiming Fijian lives.
I want to make another important point. You’ll notice I’m not wearing gloves. The Ministry has never asked Fijians to wear gloves during this pandemic for the simple reason that clean hands are much more hygienic.
Gloves are a problem because everything you touch stays on them. And unlike your hands, they cannot be easily washed. Gloves are useful for cleaning surfaces, but they are not useful for stopping person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, not in public, not in businesses, not on public transportation. What we all should be doing instead is washing hands at every opportunity with soap and water. If you see a sink, wash your hands. If you see sanitizer, use it.
Following our swabbing from the funeral yesterday, we have over 350 negative test results from the funeral contacts, with another 500 swabs to be tested after that. The numbers we get from these tests are critical to understanding the extent of the spread. We’re watching these numbers closely to determine our positivity ratio, which is the ratio of positive tests against total tests conducted –– that will be the single-most critical determinant of our next course of action. The moment these numbers tell us we have widespread transmission, we will step-up our health restrictions.
I know some people are hoping we’ll lock down the entire country. We will if we have to. But we have the know-how, the data, and the experience to combat this virus in a targeted way, and that is what we are doing. We’ll do far better –– over the long-term–– if Fijians adopt common sense measures to defend themselves now.
Defense is our best attack. This virus is an opportunist. It will take every opportunity that we give it –– whether that is a maskless conversation, a crowded market, or a careless decision to share a taki, bilo, or cigarette. We can defend ourselves with masks, we can defend ourselves with good hand hygiene and with physical distance, and we can defend ourselves by staying within our homes.
Before I take questions, yesterday I thanked Rosy Holidays and Pacific Destinations in the question time. I forgot to thank one of the businesses who aided our contact tracing in the West. So I’d like to give an overdue vote of thanks to Tour Managers for their support.
I’ve been through the CBD in Suva and it’s been to see many businesses embracing COVID-safe protocols. I saw a sign on the door of Harrison’s that read: “no mask no entry”. Every sign on the door of every business in Fiji should say the same. If they don’t, if the virus continues to spread, the simple fact is most businesses will have to shut their doors for a very long time. Livelihoods will be lost. Economic activity will plummet. We’re all on the same team here –– we all want to become COVID-Contained again. So do your part, embrace your role, as businesses, as ordinary citizens, and let’s make Fiji safe again.
Last note–– more vaccines are here. Please register online, particularly if you are based in the West.
Vinaka. Thank you.