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Statement by Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services Dr James Fong.

Bula Vinaka, everyone.

We’ve run another 828 tests since yesterday with 1 new positive result. This is a new locally transmitted case of COVID-19. The patient is the 14-year-old daughter of the hotel staff who has been the central focus of our contact tracing. This daughter did travel with her mum to the funeral at Tavakubu on April 16th and 17th –– however she had no symptoms and tested negative when entered into quarantine on Sunday, April 18th. And now she has tested positive at day 4 of quarantine. This indicates that she was entered into quarantine before she became infectious. Let me explain: We know that this virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days. So a person may take up to 14 days to have enough virus in their bodies to develop symptoms or trigger a positive test result. Importantly, the level of virus that becomes detectable on a test also relates to how infectious that person is at the time. If someone has no symptoms and tests negative in the community, it is very unlikely that they were infectious, even if they later test positive during the 14-day quarantine period.

So we now have 6 locally transmitted cases that can all be traced back to the soldier who caught the virus while working in a border quarantine facility. 3 of these latest local cases were not infectious while they were in the community, we know this because they had no symptoms at the time, and were negative on their first test when they entered quarantine. It was only on their second test in quarantine that they tested positive.

Apart from the 6 locally transmitted cases, we have 14 from border quarantine. So we now have 20 active cases in isolation,

Our teams across Viti Levu have told us they are seeing a notable increase in mask-wearing among members of the public. That is great news and it means a great deal to us at the Ministry to see so many Fijians share our mission to keep Fiji safe. Our masks –– when we wear them properly–– are badges of compassion and concern for those around us. Homemade or store-bought, wearing masks lets our doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and members of our disciplined forces all know that –– through the long days and sleepless nights –– we are not alone in our work to stop the spread of COVID-19, the nation is with us; you are with us. And we will defeat this outbreak together.

Remember the guidance we have announced and published for homemade masks — it requires at least two layers of cloth for these masks to offer protection. We’ve announced that before, I just want to remind everyone again. Some people have asked about mask-wearing in their own personal vehicles. If you are alone in your personal vehicle, or with other members of your household, you do not need to wear a mask. But when you exit the vehicle, please place one on.

There is a nationwide curfew between 11 pm and 4 am every night. As announced yesterday, we are asking for restricted movement outside of the curfew hours from 7 pm tonight until 11 pm on Sunday evening. That means everyone should stay in their homes and only spend time with members of their household. It’s important that you do because my teams are going to use that window to conduct health screenings in targeted regions throughout Viti Levu. Health officials will also be checking Fijians for COVID-like symptoms and making sure they have not had contact with someone who was contagious for the virus.

During this window of restricted movement, businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies may open at the discretion of their management. Public transportation may run, with mask-wearing enforced.

No other workplaces should open. So, save for shopping for food or medicine, or traveling for a medical emergency, there are no other reasons to leave your home. If you are out and about without an essential reason, the police will ask you to go back to where you reside. As we’ve seen before, this brand of early, decisive action is key to saving lives –– but it only works well when the public works with us. So please stay home as much as possible. Again, please remember that the normal curfew hours from 11 pm to 4 am are still in effect.

As I’ve said before, if these protocols are not followed, I will have to recommend lockdown measures for entire towns and cities.

There are still too many unknowns to determine how long the rest of our health restrictions will remain in place. More tests must be run; more time must be given to confirm that the virus is not lurking in some communities. If the numbers point to a wider outbreak, we won’t hesitate to escalate our response. But what we do know is that by staying home, you give us a much better chance at stopping the spread. If you are watching this from home, wonderful. If you aren’t, please start making arrangements to head home now. We’re urging businesses to close up shop well before 7pm so that staff and customers have time to head home. And remember, if you are heading home using public transportation –– wear a mask, and wear it properly.

The members of the media here today and around the country have a special responsibility in carrying these messages to the public. I hope the media have taken note by now: Reporting the facts is more important than reporting first. When you are in these briefings, please listen carefully to what I am saying. Our strategy is based on science. It carefully harnesses the resources at our disposal, and targets them where they can make the greatest difference. If you have a question about something I have said, ask it. Don’t put words in my mouth or ask me what you may wish I had said –– all that does is confuse well-meaning members of the public.

I was a bit disturbed by a couple of tweets that went out from a reporter who freelances for a number of media organizations outside of Fiji. Yesterday the reporter posted an incorrect tweet saying Fiji would be under a nationwide curfew starting tonight. That was wrong. We asked her to remove that tweet. Thankfully, she did. An apology tweet was posted however it also stated that the police would arrest people who were out without an essential reason which was misleading. During the window of restricted movement, the Fiji Police will be asking people to stay home. That is where we want you, at home.

I know that as a nation we can rise to meet this challenge. Most of us are abiding by the protocols we have in place. The vast majority of Fijians are doing the right things. But we have had a few instances of rule-breaking. After we established Moturiki Island as a screening zone, a gentleman was picked up on Ovalau after he swam across the channel. He’s with the Police now, and he won’t be swimming anywhere for the next 14 days until he is cleared from the screening zone. I know that may be funny to some people, but it is a real problem for our health officials. The nature of this pandemic can induce anxiety in a lot of people. It is a scary time, but don’t let that fear drive you towards bad decision-making. I want everyone watching to know, if my teams are in your community, they are there because they care. They care about you, they care about your family, they care about keeping our country safe. So please offer whatever cooperation and assistance that you can.

Today I was sent some awesome photos of food items –– donated by Mr Billy Singh of Kundan Singh –– being delivered to the families within the screening zone at Wainitarawau Settlement. Hotels –– like the Tanoa and the Crow’s nest –– have supported our surgical teams working in Sigatoka and Rakiraki. The Holiday Inn has helped provide meals and catering to our health officials. I want to thank Women in Business and the Fiji Chamber of Commerce and Industry for reaching out to their members — and to other businesses — to adhere to our health protocols. I make special mention of Tanoa Hotel. They have been with us from the very beginning and have supported us in many different ways. I hope to see other business organizations step up and do the same.

There are other operators out there aiding us at every turn. And across the country, small gestures of solidarity are taking place every day, most of which occur with little fanfare. Big or small, there is something all of us can do to ease the burden of this outbreak on those worst affected. This is a national team effort –– we’re all working to overcome the same mountain of adversity for the benefit of every family, business, and industry in Fiji, as well as the Fijian economy. So, if you are a business, and you know of some way you can help us, please call 158.

As I had announced, we are deploying COVID-19 vaccines to targeted groups in the West and Suva. As of this morning, we have begun administering vaccines to Parliamentary staff and Members of Parliament. Members of the media as well are being called to come forward to be vaccinated. I hope by this time next week, you’ve all joined us in receiving your first dose.

To the rest of Fiji: Stay safe, stay home, and, if you have an essential reason to leave the house, mask up!

Thank you.

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