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Statement by the Permanent Secretary for Health & Medical Services
COVID-19 Situation Update
Friday 30th July 2021
I want to say how proud we at the Ministry are of our Sevens heroes for their incredible repeat Gold medal victory in Tokyo. For the length of the final game, the phones were quiet on our 165 emergency line for the first time in weeks. I’m sure most of us have seen the videos of our EMT workers stealing a moment of respite to cheer on our boys and celebrate their win. I know none of us will ever forget what their win meant for the nation at this time, because their success says something very powerful about the value of sacrifice.
What we didn’t see in the 14 minutes of action that secured us Gold was the many months of sacrifices that the team members, coaches, and staff all made to keep themselves healthy and ready to compete at their full strength. I’m not only talking about the months of travel and training that kept them away from their families –– I’m talking about their diligence to prevent themselves from contracting the virus. Many athletes in Tokyo have tested positive. Sadly, they have been unable to compete. But none of our Sevens players tested positive –– all of them were available to perform at their very best because they went to every possible length to protect themselves. They were all fully vaccinated, and they didn’t unnecessarily socialise in ways that put themselves at risk. And we’ve seen what those sacrifices led to –– the greatness of Olympic Gold.
That lesson applies to every Fijian as we strive for victory over this virus. If we want to get past the COVID crisis, great sacrifices will be demanded from all of us. Move only for essential and approved business needs, for groceries and medical emergencies. Otherwise stay home, protect your loved ones and maintain your covid safe measures. And please do not gather for any reason.
Today, our sevens heroes arrived back from Japan with their Gold medals in tow. I know we’re all excited, but I’ve been watching some of our more irresponsible celebratory gatherings with growing concern. The Fiji Police spent the hours after the match breaking up more than a few victory parties that could easily result in rampant spread of the virus. That cannot continue.
Though they are fully vaccinated, we are still entering our 7s team members, coaches and staff into quarantine for a set period. I wish we could afford them the proper welcome home celebration they deserve when they exit –– but we cannot afford to do so at this time. We have to scale things down for the sake of upholding our very important health protection measures.
As for our daily update, we have confirmed 1163 new cases over the past 24 hours and another six deaths due to the virus.
I’m very sad to report that among the deaths we’re reporting today was an 11-month-old infant. Severe disease and death due to COVID among infants are rare, however the doctors overseeing this baby’s care confirm that he did die because of COVID-19. And we know that once a very high level of infections are reached in the community, these rare events do occur. It is an absolute tragedy when the most vulnerable in our community, our babies, become victims of this awful disease. It is why we at the Ministry are following the science and advice of WHO very closely with regards to the vaccination of those below the age of 18, and we are making arrangements to import more vaccines once we know that they are proven to offer safe and effective protection for children against the virus. While we await these vaccines for the younger age group we also need to remind you that every time you vaccinate, you also help to protect those not eligible for vaccination – including our children.
Among the deaths announced this week was a second nurse who was a front-liner. This is another frontliner colleague we knew and loved and our sympathies are extended to their families and to all families who have lost a loved one. She was not vaccinated. In line with government policy, she was on leave at the time she became infected.
As previously announced we have set our personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution program to ensure that the large stocks we have are always readily available to all health care workers at the front-line, especially those who work in Critical Care Units and Emergency Departments. By ensuring that our Health Care workers are fully vaccinated, well trained in PPE use and are diligent in helping each other to maintain PPE discipline in the workplace, we will be able to maintain health worker numbers in all our health facilities. To date nobody has died in Fiji from COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, we know that this is the very best protection we can provide for our colleagues.
Many have asked about workplace guidance to help deal with maintaining staff capacity and reducing the risk of transmission among workers as much as possible. All businesses that are open at the moment have had to put forward COVID-safe operational plans approved by MCTTT –– those measures must be enforced to the letter.
As a reminder to all employers, employees, and customers, the key is to minimize contact as much as possible –– and avoid concentrated gatherings entirely. We need strong workplace measures to support and have oversight in ensuring:
1. Regular handwashing.
2. Strict physical distancing.
4. Avoidance of contact, crowds and contained spaces.
5. Opting for small working groups in the workplace with protocols that support working from home.
6. The use of ventilation interventions in the workplace. These include opening windows; inspecting and maintaining dedicated exhaust ventilation; disabling ventilation methods that recycle indoor air; repositioning outdoor air dampers; using of fans to increase effectiveness of open windows; repositioning supply/exhaust diffusers to create directional airflow. And we’re urging businesses to employ further interventions, such as adding portable HEPA fan/filter systems and Ultraviolet germicidal technology.
The point is that making workplaces safer needs to be an ongoing process of making changes and actively seeking out options based on the many guidelines that are out there. It should not be a mere checkbox exercise to align businesses to MCTTT requirements. There are very strict penalties in place for businesses who violate the COVID-safe requirements that have allowed them to re-open.
On the use of Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs). Rapid Diagnostic tests are tests used to diagnose COVID-19 in a specific environment, and have the advantage of being able to produce a result very quickly (usually within 30 minutes or less), and can be done outside of traditional laboratory set ups. However, they work best when the limitations of the test are clearly understood by the user. They should not be conducted for persons with no symptoms (unless they are conducted on the person at regular intervals eg. daily) and are not to be used to clear a person from isolation. We have been telling everyone that lives in Suva-Nausori that if you have symptoms of COVID-19 you should assume you have COVID-19 and self-isolate for 14 days, keep watch for severe COVID-19 symptoms and immediately seek emergency medical care if they are present. However, if you are over the age of 50 or have an illness that increases your risk of developing severe COVID-19, you must come to our screening clinics to get tested and put on the appropriate care pathway where you will be monitored by our health teams. If you test positive on a rapid diagnostic test, you can assume that you have COVID-19 and self-isolate for 14 days. However, if you have symptoms and test negative on a rapid diagnostic test you should still assume you have COVID-19 and self-isolate for 14 days. We know that these rapid tests have a higher risk of producing a false negative result than the gold standard molecular testing, which is used by the Ministry to confirm all negative rapid tests conducted at our screening clinics.
As of today, 80% of all eligible adults in Fiji have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine –– that is the halfway mark in our campaign to fully-vaccinate 587,651 Fijians by the end of October. We have worked hard to get to this point just like in rugby, complacency in the second half spells a whole lot worse than taking Silver. We have to finish strong –– just like our sevens heroes –– and win our victory over this virus by vaccinating as many adults in Fiji as we possibly can. Lives depend on our success. If you’ve received one dose, come forward for dose number two. And if you are yet to be vaccinated, please do so. We have enough vaccines in-country for everyone eligible.
Lastly, we’re grateful to see the National Budget for the upcoming financial year pass Parliament this week. It funds the hiring of hundreds of healthcare professionals to strengthen the front-line of our containment response –– that means we can offer more COVID-related and non-COVID-related care to the public, while allowing our frontliners to share the heavy workload with colleagues, and take a break when they need it.