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As we announced on the 20 th of July, we have so far confirmed nine cases of COVID-19 among a number of our citizens who were repatriated from India on the 1 st of July. All of these cases are “border quarantine cases”, meaning they have had zero interaction with the public, and each have been held securely in military-monitored isolation since their diagnosis. Since the 20th of July, we have not confirmed any new cases of the virus.
However, unfortunately, a number of these returning Fijians were elderly and had serious underlying medical conditions, factors which both greatly increase the risk of mortality.
Our first border quarantine case of COVID-19 was a 66-year-old gentleman who was returning to Fiji after receiving surgical treatment in India for a longstanding cardiac condition. Sadly, despite the best efforts of our healthcare professionals, this gentleman passed away yesterday in the isolation ward at Lautoka Hospital due to complications from COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has extended our sincere condolences directly to the gentleman’s family, who we have remained in constant contact with since his diagnosis. This is an enormous tragedy for them. I can tell you our staff at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services are devastated by this loss as well.
It is important to note that this gentleman contracted the virus while in India, a country which is in the midst of a large-scale outbreak of COVID-19. In many other countries, news of the first death due to the virus has signalled an intensifying of the outbreak. This is not the case for Fiji. Again, the virus is not present in Fijian communities, nor is there any risk of infection among the Fijian public.
Fiji committed to repatriating our citizens from around the world because we have the confidence and the capacity to do so without risking our status as a COVID-Contained country. We were well-prepared for the risk that our citizens abroad could contract the virus.
Because we know how deadly this disease can be, we were also well-prepared for the risk of a fatality, and we’ve handled this situation in line with our infection prevention control protocols to ensure no risk to the public.
Owed to our exhaustive preparation, and our commitment to repatriate our people wherever possible, we don’t have to read a headline in a foreign newspaper about this gentleman passing away while stranded from his family overseas. Instead, we were able to bring him home to Fiji, safely diagnose him, and treat the severity of his condition as well as it could be treated. This gentleman’s family is now making funeral arrangements to have him buried in Fiji.
I know I speak for all of the Ministry –– particularly for this gentleman’s attending physicians –– when I say how deeply affected we all are by this loss. I’d ask the media to please be considerate of the family’s privacy during this unimaginably difficult time.