COVID-19 Update 06-12-2021
Last Updated on 12 months by Publishing Team
COVID-19 Situation Update
Monday 06th December
The Ministry of Health continues to monitor the outbreak using indicators such as daily case numbers, hospitalizations, test positivity, and deaths.
Occupancy rates in health facilities, the occupancy rate of ICU beds, death rates, and vaccination coverage are indicators to monitor our health response capacity and we see a decreasing trend across indicators from our health facilities with increasing vaccination coverage for adults and 15-17-year-olds in Fiji. With the commencement of vaccination for 12-14-year-olds, we expect their coverage to contribute to reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
With international travel open, we anticipate our testing numbers to increase from international repatriates and travelers including Fijians visiting families and friends. With increasing COVID-19 cases in the European region and the emergence of the new variant Omicron, there is cause for concern. Our border health measures and surveillance will need to be strengthened and maintained. We anticipate continued surveillance and testing in our communities and maritime islands to monitor and detect cases for early intervention.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services announced last week that travelers who had arrived from an African state and were undergoing quarantine in a border quarantine facility had tested positive for COVID-19. Their samples had been sent to the reference laboratory in Australia for urgent genomic sequencing. The results for the two travelers have been received and are confirmed positive for the Omicron variant.
The two travelers are Fijian citizens who had traveled back into Fiji from Nigeria, arriving on Fiji Airways flight FJ1392 from Hong Kong on November 25th – the day the discovery of the Omicron variant was announced internationally. Both travelers tested negative for COVID-19 before departure from Fiji and before they left Nigeria. They entered a government-designated border quarantine facility immediately upon arrival into Fiji, tested positive while in quarantine, currently have no symptoms, and were fully vaccinated. With the exception of four passengers, all those on the flight were from non-travel partner countries, and therefore entered a border quarantine facility upon arrival to undergo the full quarantine protocol of 10 days. That has since been extended to 14 days. The four passengers on the flight who were from a travel partner country have tested negative. The Fiji Airways crew and accompanying passengers from FJ 1392 have tested negative at least twice.
The indications are that we have averted community transmission at this time, and the measures we had put in place to prevent, or at least delay, community transmission through the importation of cases from red zone countries have worked well so far. Our red zone designated countries are countries that we consider at high risk of proliferating variants. These are countries with low vaccination rates, poor testing data, and an ongoing outbreak. As we previously highlighted, the protocols in place for the red zone countries were to isolate for 5 days and test negative twice before we approve their re-entry. In Fiji, they undergo 14 days of strict quarantine and testing in a government-designated border quarantine facility.
The evidence on Omicron variant’s impact on the transmissibility of the virus, severity of disease, and effect of prior immunity (from vaccination or infection) is still in the very early stages so conclusions cannot be made yet. However, the preliminary evidence is that this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant; it may cause reinfection in people who have been previously infected with another variant; and it has been seen to infect people who are fully vaccinated – although, so far, the fully vaccinated cases have been generally mild or with no symptoms.
Therefore, it must be re-emphasized that, if a variant is transmissible enough, stringent border and community measures will only delay the inevitable entry and spread of current and future variants of the COVID-19 virus, especially as the Omicron variant is also spreading into some of our travel partner countries. To protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our country, we must all get vaccinated when it is our turn. And even with our high vaccination levels, we must maintain COVID safe habits: mask wisely by carrying a well-fitted mask when you leave your home and wear the mask properly in public indoor spaces, public service vehicles, and outdoor crowded spaces; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; 2-meter physical distancing and ensure you are wearing a mask if you cannot maintain distance; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Finding the Omicron variant in travelers in border quarantine is not unexpected, given how quickly it has spread worldwide, but it is a sharp reminder to ourselves that the key to avoiding future restrictions and lockdowns is for us all to remain cautious about how we engage in the greater freedom we will enjoy. Whilst the easing of restrictions is needed to facilitate livelihoods, we must ensure that together with vaccination, we continue to observe our COVID safe measures and avoid contained spaces and crowds.
The Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services is also extremely concerned at the lack of adherence to COVID safe measures in gatherings throughout the country, especially the adherence to masking in indoor public spaces. After the Delta outbreak this year it is understandable that many will feel the urge to relax and celebrate now that case numbers are low, especially during the festive season. And many of us have let our guards slip. We are all human. But this must stop now if we hope to reduce the impact of the impending third wave of COVID-19 expected early in 2022.
I hope that we will all take this advice to heart and do what is right, but I have also requested all spotters from Health, Commerce, and Security Ministries to escalate the fining of individuals and corporate bodies where there is evidence of non-compliance with COVID safe measures. These spot fines must be seen as a means to promote COVID safe measures; as such, it is NOT the intention that every single transgression will be picked up and fined. All of us who live in Fiji need to understand that any large resurgence in cases is likely to undermine our social and economic recovery program, irrespective of whether it’s from the Delta variant or the entry of the Omicron variant. We now need to maintain our COVID guard and ensure we protect ourselves at all times. Our mantra for “Onwards Fiji” (Toso Viti) is to protect yourself to protect Fiji.