Last Updated on 2 weeks by Publishing Team
Statement by the Permanent Secretary for Health & Medical Services
COVID-19 Situation Update
Thursday 21st July 2021
We’ve seen week-over-week increases in our 7-day rolling average of cases, with another 1,091 new cases confirmed in the past 24-hour period. While the current outbreak is contained to Viti Levu, and primarily in the Lami-Nausori corridor, over the last week we have also seen increasing cases in the Western Division.
We have 21 new COVID deaths from the period of 14th July until 20th July. Two of the deaths confirmed today were pregnant women. Both women had been unwell with COVID symptoms at home before presenting to our health facilities in severe respiratory distress. In both cases, our physicians made the decision to conduct emergency cesarean operations to rescue the newborns and assist with the care of the mothers. Sadly, despite the best efforts of their attending physicians, both mothers passed away. However, the fast actions of the obstetric team saved both babies. Maternal deaths at any time are a tragedy, and maternal deaths due to COVID-19 are a clear indication of the severity of this outbreak.
Given the rapidly evolving situation, our teams have been working around the clock to reprioritize and focus our efforts to ensure we are protecting those most at risk of severe COVID-19 and dying – our elderly, people with existing medical conditions, and pregnant women. These shifts include changes to our testing services, home quarantine guidance, ensuring we are providing life-saving medical care to those people who are most at risk and establishing vaccination for pregnant women.
But we need your cooperation because saving lives from COVID-19 depends on your adherence to the rules and your understanding as much as ever.
I know some people have experienced delays in being swabbed and receiving their test results. At the national level our testing is averaging 4.3 tests per 1000 population per day, and in Suva-Nausori 6 per 1000 population per day. At a population level, we are testing at similar rates to developed countries like Australia, and the state of New South Wales, which also has an outbreak, and we are doing so through just six laboratories. We are working on increasing our testing capacity, including establishing a new Fiji CDC lab for Nadi in August. And we are developing a new web-based system for delivering test results to patients.
But as cases have increased in the last two weeks, so has the demand for testing, and for non-urgent samples, this affects the turnaround time. That has necessitated some important changes for the Ministry, and it requires new action from you, the members of the public. We need to target our testing to where the result makes a difference to the outcomes of patients – that means we need to target testing for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19.
For communities in the Lami-Nausori area
For community members who are at lower risk of severe COVID, if you have been in close contact with someone with COVID –– for example, you live or work with someone who has COVID-19 – you should assume you also have the virus. This means you should immediately quarantine at home for the next 14 days. If you develop any COVID-19 symptoms during this 14-day period, such as a cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, loss of taste or smell, body ache, headache – you should most certainly assume you have COVID-19 and self-isolate.
LOWER RISK PATIENTS – HOME ISOLATION
Most people infected with COVID-19 will have only mild symptoms and fully recover at home. For lower-risk individuals with COVID, we ask you to please stay at home for 14 days, isolate yourself from other family members, and continue to monitor your symptoms for severe COVID-19. If you develop any signs of severe COVID-19, like difficulty breathing or chest pain, please go to one of our dedicated health facilities.
HIGHER RISK PATIENTS
For community members in the Lami-Nausori area who are at high risk of severe COVID-19, we will be prioritizing the testing and rapid turnaround of their results.
If you or someone you are caring for is at high risk of severe COVID – in particular individuals over 50 years, have a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, asthma, are obese, or are pregnant – we need you to get in touch right away and visit one of our screening clinics. If you test positive, then we will ensure you are provided immediate care by our health teams.
Over the past few weeks, the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths have been in our most vulnerable community members. When our health teams first saw these patients, most of them were either in a critical condition or had already passed away. If our health teams were able to see these patients earlier, we may have been able to save them.
We know many families are valiantly trying to care for their loved ones at home, but for those who are most at risk of severe COVID-19, home care won’t be enough. These individuals need their oxygen levels closely monitored, likely need access to supplemental oxygen, as well as clinical teams to rapidly respond if their condition deteriorates.
So please, if you or someone you are caring for has COVID-19 symptoms and are at high risk of severe COVID-19, please let us help you to have the best chance of recovery.
There is a video circulating online from within one of our field hospital locations. That facility was erected for the purposes of bolstering our treatment capacity, and its conditions are exactly the same as field hospitals we have relied upon in past emergency situations, such as cyclones and other disasters. We are now in the midst of a wave of COVID-19 infections and, like most countries around the world, we have had to rapidly expand our health facilities by using these tents to care for COVID-19 patients and to ensure that all those who need beds and access to ventilators can have it. Even in developed countries, similar measures have been taken. As an independent civil servant, I find it very disheartening that some people, including media organizations, have sought to undermine this obvious and essential step to treat COVID-positive patients. Many people’s lives have been saved in those temporary facilities and we will continue to rely on their use until more Fijians are vaccinated and, as a direct result, the risks of severe disease and death due to COVID in Fiji are much lower.
We have 317 new recoveries to report today, with over 4,550 recoveries from the virus in total. Recovery is possible. In fact, most patients will recover. The sooner those most at-risk are identified and treated, the more likely they will be to recover as well. Many of those recoveries will continue to come out of our field hospitals.
The data from today tells the same sobering story we’ve seen since early May: We have an outbreak of severe disease and death among unvaccinated Fijians. Of the 144 lives we have lost to COVID in this outbreak, none were fully vaccinated. 22 were partially vaccinated, having received only one dose, and the rest had no vaccination.
There is no stronger evidence pointing to why we must vaccinate all adults –- in particular those who are at greatest risk -– as quickly as humanly possible. It is the best available protection against the worst effects of the virus.
So again, I ask that anyone who is yet to be vaccinated, please do so immediately. To our younger ones, get vaccinated yourselves and please help by bringing your parents, grandparents, and older community members to the nearest vaccination center or drive-through and give them the best possible protection against this virus.
On a positive note, as of today, 410,495 individuals have received at least one dose and 83,732 are fully vaccinated. For those who are fully vaccinated, please remember that while you are offered very strong protection against severe disease and death, you can still get COVID-19 and pass it on to others so please adhere closely to our other COVID-safe measures.
For pregnant women and other high-risk individuals, we are also providing them access to the Moderna vaccine. A person only needs to wait 28 days between their first and second dose of Moderna vaccine so this means we can protect those who are at high risk, faster.
To allow workplaces to reopen without crushing the capacity of our healthcare system, employees must be vaccinated. Social welfare recipients must be vaccinated as well. Even if the government has not mandated it for you, it is a mandate you should make for yourself. It only takes one look at our rising numbers of fatalities to see there simply is no morally or medically acceptable alternative. Get vaccinated. Do it as soon as you can. And go further: Tell your friends and loved ones why you have been vaccinated and why they should do the same.
Not everyone will be vaccinated just because I recommend it, I know that. Some people place their highest trust in those around them, those in their communities, those at the dinner table with them, those they’ve grown up with and know their entire lives. By telling someone you love why you have been vaccinated and why they should too, you could be the voice that inspires them to be protected. You may well be better placed than any doctor to save their life and ease the strain of this outbreak of our healthcare system. So speak up. Sadly, many social media companies, like Facebook, provide the platform for lies and misinformation about vaccines to spread far faster than facts. So it is up to us to get the truth about vaccines –– and the proven protection they provide –– into the public domain and in front of those who need to hear that message most of all.
LOCKDOWNS AND OTHER HEALTH PROTECTION MEASURES
In the meantime, we are continuing to target lockdowns in extremely high-risk areas. We are continuing to enforce the wearing of masks and the maintenance of physical distance. We are urging Fijians to stay home unless they have an essential reason to leave. And we are racing to vaccinate as many Fijians as we can. Do your part as well. Follow the rules, and be vaccinated when you have the chance. We have a target of fully vaccinating at least 80% of all eligible adults in Fiji by the end of October. We can get there. We will get there. And Fiji will be much safer for it.