Media statement

PS Health – Press Statement 30-04-2021

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

Bula Vinaka.

Following the screening of another 16,613 Fijians and another 1018 tests yesterday, we have one new case of COVID-19 to report. I will get to the details of that patient shortly. Before I do, we have some urgent developments to cover that require immediate changes to our containment strategy.

Our contact tracing stemming from case number 113 — the garment factory worker — is in full-swing. There are two factories we are focused on. One is Lyndhurst, the factory in which she worked. The other is the Mark One Apparel factory. Employees at these factories travel to and from work on the same company-provided transportation, so we are treating both of these factories as potential source points of further transmission.

Starting last night, our teams have run an exhaustive all-night contact tracing exercise of these at-risk employees. Before the sun started rising, samples went for processing. We have 877 employees in total that we need to reach. 321 have been identified, screened, and swabbed. We have no positive cases to report at this time. If you work at the Lyndhurst or the Mark One Apparel factory and my teams have not been in contact with you yet — please call 158 now to help us reach you as quickly as possible.

There are still hundreds of employees we need to contact. The vast majority of these individuals reside in the Suva and Nausori areas. We cannot waste another minute locating the rest of them. To allow my teams to find these Fijians quickly, we will be locking down the Suva and Nausori Containment zones from 2000 hours tonight until 0400 hours Monday morning. Rather than operate two separate containment zones, The Suva Containment Area and the Nausori Containment areas will be consolidated into the Suva-Nausori Lockdown Zone. The borders of the Lockdown Zone mirror that of the two containment areas — the police will operate checkpoints at Logani Village, Sawani and Tamavua-i-wai Bridge (Delainavesi) and the check point at the 8 miles bridge near Rups Big Bear will be uplifted.

To those living in Suva and in Nausori, we have all been through this before — we know what it means. The Suva-Nausori Lockdown Zone will be under curfew for at least the next 56 hours. No one should leave their homes. I’ll say that again, within the lockdown zone, no one, not parents, not breadwinners, not children, no one should leave their homes. The Police will be enforcing that movement restriction. Without Ministry approval you can only move out from your home for medical emergencies, this exemption will include kidney dialysis patients.

For the duration of this lockdown, no businesses, including supermarkets, banks, and pharmacies are allowed to be open. Some essential services, like water, power, ports, and private hospitals, will be allowed to operate with authorisation granted by the Ministry, and we will work directly with essential service providers on those arrangements. Deliveries across the lockdown zone borders will also go on hold — as there will not be any markets or supermarkets open, so these delivery services do not need to operate through the weekend.

As I’ve mentioned over the past few days, lockdowns are a measure of last resort. We’ve determined that — at this stage — a snap lockdown has become a medical necessity for the Suva-Nausori corridor. But we recognise that the nature of these restrictions is going to make accessing basic services extremely difficult over the next 48 hours — if not impossible.

We have ordered food packs that will be delivered throughout the lockdown area for Fijians who run out of food. If you live in the lockdown area and need to access this emergency food supply, you can call toll-free number 161 from 9am tomorrow morning. Please be patient, your calls will be answered. To keep things efficient, please make sure you have details, like your name, location and number of family members, readily available. Deliveries will be scheduled throughout the course of the weekend. We will come to you — so there is no need to leave your home.

On Sunday, we ‘re going to look carefully at what our contact tracing and testing tells us, and make a medical determination on whether the lockdown should end or extend.

Now I’ll speak on our new confirmed case. This patient is the wife of case number 110 — the first individual in Ra who tested positive for the virus earlier this week. Remember, we have another case in Ra — case number 116 — which we announced yesterday. So this makes for a total of three cases in Ra, forming two clusters.

We still do not know where either of these clusters originated. We’re continuing to investigate any possible links with existing cases. We’ve also sent samples of the positive test results of our most recent cases to our reference lab in Melbourne to see if there is a genetic link between these latest cases.

We are also investigating the possibility that these cases originated from the earlier-announced quarantine facility breach. I want to explain exactly how that may have happened.

The incubation period for the virus is 14 days. That means, from the moment a person comes into contact with someone with the virus and gets infected, it can take up to 14 days for the virus to cause symptoms or register a positive COVID-19 test result. Only after we effectively quarantine an individual for 14 days, and then they register a negative COVID-19 test result, do we know that they do not have COVID-19. But that assurance comes from the fact that we are certain that the individual had zero exposure to the virus for every single day of that two-week quarantine period. Because if they came into contact with someone with the virus during that 14 day period – the incubation period resets to another 14 days.

At the Tanoa Hotel — due to the breaches at that border quarantine facility — there could have been infectious staff who transmitted the virus to individuals during their 14-day quarantine period. That means, when we tested them at the end of their quarantine, we could have missed a soon-to-be-positive patient. In the case of those discharged from Tanoa from the 12th of April onwards, that’s exactly what we are concerned may have happened. One of those individuals — case number 114 — has already proved that concern is valid.

We have contacted 93 out of the 96 individuals discharged from the Tanoa Hotel Quarantine Facility from the 12th April 2021 and onwards. These individuals are being tested and will restart their 14 day quarantine. One of these cases may be the source of the outbreak in Ra. We simply won’t know for sure until these restarted periods of quarantine are complete.

In the meantime, we have no choice but to treat the first two cases in Ra as instances of community transmission, which are cases that have no known link to other cases or international travel.

Yesterday, we published a list of contact tracing areas of interest online. Those are the main locations we know about. It is not an exhaustive list. The mere existence of a case of community transmission means there are high-risk locations in Fiji that we do NOT know about. So please do not read that list and think — simply because you have not been to any of those places — that you have not been exposed to COVID-19. You still could have been. If you have been anywhere outside of your home, there is a chance you could have contracted the virus. Every time you leave your home that risk increases.

Certain areas of Viti Levu are already cordoned off into containment zones. Functionally, Ra is already separated from major population centres. However, to ensure restricted movement within the province, the Fiji Police Force have set up the containment area boundaries for the Dokonavatu-Nanukuloa-Naiserelagi area, and the Naria area to ensure there is no unauthorized movement across the borders.

Starting at 8pm tonight, The capital and the Nausori corridor will be on war-footing. We have 56 hours to break as many chains of COVID transmission as possible. My teams — alongside the members of our disciplined forces — will be taking full advantage of this opportunity to get ahead of the spread of this virus.

In the lockdown zone, we want zero public movement. There should be no one on the streets. Unless you are travelling for a medical emergency or the Ministry has issued you a special clearance, it will be considered an offence and the police will arrest you.

For the rest of Fiji, essential businesses — such as supermarkets — are open, essential movement is allowed, and the normal curfew hours from 11pm to 4am apply. But we are urging everyone to please stay home. Make this a family weekend, keep your children with you. Every time you leave, you risk bringing this killer virus home with you. But if you absolutely do have to leave, wear a mask and make you sure you have careFIJI installed and turned on at all times. If more Fijians had downloaded the careFIJI app from the start, we wouldn’t be in this position today. If we see gatherings or large numbers of people moving about elsewhere in Fiji, we won’t hesitate to extend these lockdown measures to other parts of the country.

There’s nothing easy about the task ahead of us. Every decision we make will be defining for the security of the country. That applies to my teams — and it applies to each of you watching this address. It’s tempting to treat this as a moment of despair. But my teams see this as an opportunity — as our opportunity to contain this virus. We need your support. We need your cooperation. I assure you, we will return it ten-fold through our efforts to free Fiji from the grasp of this outbreak. Together, we can. Together, we have. Together, we will once again.