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Statement by the Permanent Secretary for Health & Medical Services
COVID-19 Situation Update
Monday 14th June 2021
Following another 2,813 tests, we have 89 new cases of COVID-19 to confirm today.
Most of these cases are contacts of cases we have found and from clusters, we know about. That is useful for containment purposes because it lets us know where to target lockdowns. But the sheer number of daily cases is, of course, a matter of concern. Yesterday, we hit our highest daily case number total –– 105 in a day. I’m confident that case numbers will rise in the near term and that the record of daily cases will be broken again. But that does not mean we are helpless, it does not mean we cannot protect ourselves.
If we look inside the numbers, we can give ourselves a much clearer idea of exactly what is happening. When we do, we see other factors that are a cause for some optimism over the long term.
First, we are testing more than we ever have –– by a lot. At this same time last year, we were running under 120 tests a day. Now, we can run over 3,000 tests every 24 hours. Relative to our population, we are testing more than any other country in Oceania. That’s because we are dealing with an outbreak, for one, and because of the massive expansions, we’ve made to our testing capacity.
The second is that the number of severe cases is very low. In my view, even one is too many. Still, very few people have needed hospital care. There may be a number of reasons for that, but we believe that the fact that almost half the adults in Fiji have received at least one dose of the vaccine could be one reason. So that is a reminder to all of us about the value of the vaccines and the protection they offer against severe disease. Another is possibly the relative youth of our population. Healthy young people are generally less likely to get a severe case than older people. However, they can pass the virus to more vulnerable people, so all of us –– especially young people –– must exercise extreme caution at all times.
The third major factor inside these numbers is that most of these cases are occurring within known clusters, and often among people who are already isolated. We know that in several of these clusters people live in close proximity to each other, so even after we’ve locked them down, the spread within those communities is highly likely –– that is why we are seeing rising case numbers. Not to mention, the variant present in Fiji, the Delta variant, is a more infectious variant of the virus. But as long as we can maintain the integrity of the areas of isolation, we have a good chance of limiting or stemming the spread.
To review, our current major clusters are in:
- Grantham Road
- The Navy Headquarters
- The Nasinu Police Barracks
We have continued to confirm cases at the cluster CWM hospital, which is now a wholly dedicated COVID-care facility. We have to combat the virus while continuing to give Fijians access to critical care. We are in discussions with Australia about a range of areas for their continued support, including contingency options, like an AUSMAT deployment, if it should be needed.
Our final cluster is within the Incident Management Team I lead, which is why I am still at home under home quarantine as a contact of a confirmed case. I have continued to test negative for the virus and expect to clear home quarantine on 17 June following a negative final exit swab.
I have one last word on clusters: These areas are where the risk of transmission is highest. But clusters do not always denote a location – someone can be linked to a cluster but live in a different part of Suva than the case they are linked to. And there are certainly cases beyond these clusters we have not identified. But risk resides everywhere in the Central Division. And –– we have good reason to suspect –– in other areas of Viti Levu as well. So we must still take every possible measure to protect ourselves.
I want to review the health protection measures we’ve instituted:
- There are no social gatherings allowed of any nature. Not indoors, not outdoors. Not in the back room at work. Not along the seawall. Not with friends in your neighbourhood. No social gatherings full stop.
- All houses of worship are closed.
- Businesses without clear, COVID-safe plans cannot open. And those approved to open should have the careFIJI QR code at the point of entry.
- Masks must be worn everywhere in public.
- We have developed the careFIJI contact tracing app to make contact tracing more efficient than it has ever been. All Fijians should install it and keep Bluetooth switched on.
- COVID and non-COVID care have been clearly delineated across our healthcare system.
- All positive patients are entered into home isolation. Contacts of cases are entered into quarantine and must test negative over 14 days before being cleared.
- Areas with high case numbers are being locked down in a targeted manner.
- Groceries and household essentials are being provided to these families under lockdown orders.
- Nursing homes and elderly care facilities have been closed to all visitors; and
- We are rolling out vaccines at an excellent pace.
- A Telehealth program piloted in Lautoka to allow for healthcare consultations over the phone is progressing well based on feedback from the clinicians and customers. We will be looking to expand this pilot project into existing protocols in CWM and health facilities within the Lami-Nausori containment zone.
This is all to say: We are not giving up. These measures –– if followed by everyone –– can stop the spread of COVID-19 –– even in its more transmissible form of the Delta variant. A key pillar of our mitigation phase is protecting those most vulnerable; the elderly and those living with co-morbidities that make them more likely to become seriously ill or die from the virus. For their sake, we all must stay the course.
We are also protecting the economically vulnerable by paving highly controlled COVID-safe pathways for businesses to re-open. A number of barbershops and hairdressers were given permission to reopen recently. We are confident that as long as the barbers and patrons are wearing masks at all times, haircuts can be managed safely. The risk of transmission, of course, will never be zero. But we can bring that risk as close to zero as possible if everyone follows the rules. So, if you decide you need a haircut, keep your mask on.
Groceries and other household essentials have been delivered to areas under lockdown, including in Nawaka, where we had some dangerously crowded protests over the weekend.
I was sorry to see that protest take place when groceries and household essentials were already on the way. In fact, we had notified the community several days prior that those items were to be delivered that day, and they were delivered on schedule. That same day of the protest, the third delivery of groceries and household items arrived to the community.
When I see crowding like that in a lockdown area, I see risk of transmission. We have already seen 119 cases in Nadi since the start of this outbreak, with another 28 confirmed in the last 24 hours, up till 6am this morning. So I’d again ask for the patience of the public as we seek to contain the spread of this virus. I know it is difficult to live under lockdown. But I assure you we want you to have the supplies you need to feel secure in your homes until the lockdown lifts.
Together with the Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Communications, we are strengthening our database by allowing for the electronic registration of household information and their needs. That information comes to us quickly from the people on the ground and allows us to make the most efficient use possible out of the resources we have.
Extensive discussions are taking place to create a mechanism for the many Fijians stuck in Viti Levu to make the journey home. In many instances children have not seen their parents, wives and husbands have been separated. They want to go back home, I’m sure we all understand that. The Ministry with MCTTT, Ministry of Maritime and Rural Affairs and Ministry of iTaukei Affairs have put together a number of protocols to ensure that the protocols of safe travel, including a proper 14 days of quarantine, are fully adhered to.
I also want to thank all of the businesses that have enlisted in our plan to make Fiji COVID-safe. The businesses that are adopting careFIJI QR codes. The businesses that are offering discounts to vaccinated Fijians. We need more of that. We appreciate every effort you give.
And we appreciate the leaders who are using their voices to support this plan and help it succeed. They are echoing the importance of the measures we’ve put in place to keep people safe. But I’m worried that some are doing the opposite: They are saying we have no plan, undermining confidence in our mitigation measures. No plan means no hope. And that simply isn’t true. Mitigation is a plan. It is well documented in our Public Health Publications and was part of our preparedness and response document that we developed in February 2020. We follow the science by adjusting it to our context.
I urge these politicians to walk back that rhetoric and consider the clear and firm plan that we are working to implement day and night. I ask all politicians to use their platforms to help encourage Fijians to follow the clear rules we have in place. If you have 100,000 followers, 1,000 followers, or ten followers: Use your platform. Help us tell people to wear masks, tell people to avoid gatherings and keep good physical distance from others. Tell people to install careFIJI and use the new QR code system. And tell people why they should make the choice to be vaccinated. We can’t win this fight alone. We need all of you with us; all of you watching now, and all your family, friends and neighbours. We know we all want the same thing for Fiji: A Fiji where we can live our lives without fear of this virus again. Until that day, we need your compliance, we need your support, and we need your faith.