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Statement by Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Dr James Fong.
Bula Vinaka.
After another 1380 tests, we have one new case to announce today.
The new case is a woman from Kalokalo, Makoi who presented to the Makoi health centre today with COVID symptoms. At this very early stage in the investigation, no link has been established between this case and others. We’ll be treating this as another case of community transmission until proven otherwise. The contact tracing, testing and isolation protocols are currently activated and the centre is closed for now.
Due to the steadily rising number of cases across Viti Levu, the borders of all six containment areas –– Lautoka, Nadi, Rakiraki, Lami, Suva and Nausori –– are being maintained. The confirmation of cases of unknown origin, in particular, indicates the virus could still be present in all six areas, so the borders must be enforced, as must the other restrictions we have in place. When the data tell us to proceed in a different direction –– we’ll tell you.
My teams and I sit down every day to go over how we’re managing the nation’s COVID containment strategy. I encourage every household and community to spend at least one day per week reviewing how your group –– or bubble –– is managing the risks of this outbreak. Take some time, talk through the schedules and routines of the people who share your “bubbles” with you. Talk with your children about how the virus can spread. Sometimes telling people what to do isn’t enough. We have to explain how our measures work and why it’s important we adhere to them.
For the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of Fijians who hear these announcements, I have explained how the virus travels and what is proven to stop its spread. We publish these announcements in vernacular languages as well. I’m asking those who do tune in for these announcements to help spread these messages faster than the virus spreads itself. You do not need a medical degree to understand why it is important to wear masks or wash your hands. If you can turn your phone on, you can install careFIJI and keep Bluetooth turned on –– it’s very simple. And the difference between a crowded shop and the safety of your own home should be obvious to everyone.
Movement across Viti Levu is currently restricted for essential purposes only. The purpose of limiting movement is to limit mixing between people. We are dealing with a highly transmissible variant and several unknown chains of transmission, so we want people to operate in “bubbles” and stay in their bubbles as much as possible. If the virus stays within one person, and that person does not mix with other people, the virus eventually dies, because it has no new hosts to infect.
Our next steps are being informed by the best available science. They will be taken based on the data we gather from contact tracing and testing, with advice from other ministries and the experts from the WHO, along with input from businesses and organisations, all of which we need to have fully invested in the success of our containment strategy. From an epidemiological standpoint, from an economic standpoint, and from an employment standpoint –– we are considering all angles of this wide-reaching crisis.
You’ll remember the last lockdown we implemented was limited to Suva and Nausori, and it was done for the purposes of contact tracing. It came into effect suddenly, so that those contacts could be located. And it worked, we found everyone we needed to find, and it ended quickly. A more sustained lockdown, however, will require a more strategic approach.
With a full year of experience behind us, we have a much greater understanding of the virus and a range of tools to use to fight it –– including stronger testing capacity and the careFIJI app. We can be targeted in our approach so that if we do lock down an area, or even all of Viti Levu, we do not place undue hardship on people and businesses. In other words, future lockdowns, should they be needed, will be targeted and active. They will be targeted because the lockdown area will be defined as narrowly as possible. And they will be active because we will endeavour to permit the broadest range of movement and economic activity possible, in bubbles that mitigate widespread transmission of the virus. We want essential services to continue, and we want as many as people as possible to go to their jobs and open their businesses. We cannot expect our economy to recover if we shut entire industries for weeks on end. Some of those jobs –– particularly in manufacturing –– may never come back.
Businesses, organisations, communities, and individuals are all in this campaign together. All of us are only as strong as our weakest link. Adherence to our COVID-safe measures, everywhere in Fiji, at every level of society, is the only sustainable way to manage this crisis. Whatever step we take, whether that is legally mandating mask-wearing or the use of careFIJI, or even re-introducing a 24-hour curfew, our success will ultimately come down to the diligence and the vigilance of the public. Many people are making adjustments to keep themselves and their loved ones safe –– we see you, and we appreciate you. But too many of us are still pretending as if there is no threat in our midst; as if the world is still the way it was more than one year ago before the coronavirus spread from country to country like wildfire. This pandemic has changed societies in long-lasting ways. It has changed the way people interact. It has changed the way people do business. And Fiji must change with the world.
I also want to address some confusion about the purposes of the Fiji Emergency Medical Assistance Team (FEMAT) field hospitals. The FEMAT field hospital in Lautoka takes the strain off Lautoka Hospital, which is now designated for the care of COVID patients. The Field Hospital treats the cases the hospitals would normally expect to treat – -acute cases, accidents, childbirths, and other non-elective surgeries, for example. We are doing this because we don’t want to put non-infected patients in the same hospitals with infected patients. There is too much risk of transmission, and we can’t have the medical staff going from one group of patients to the other.
While the field hospital is technically only for emergency care, we will see whoever comes through the gate, aside, of course, from any patients showing COVID-like symptoms. Maternity care will also be done in the FEMAT Hospital while deliveries will be done on board the MV Veivueti. Further care of sick mothers and babies will be in the new Ba Hospital.
With our Lautoka Hospital now fully dedicated as a COVID care facility, I want to thank groups –– like the Denarau Corporation Limited –– for helping us provision the personnel who are living and working in the hospital, as well as the private doctors who will soon be offering treatments and consultations to those who would normally go to public hospitals for non-COVID care. Regardless of whether new restrictions come into effect, or others relax, support from businesses and civil society will be critical. In this campaign, the nation needs to work as a unit. We are stronger together against whatever comes our way. Whether it is through the simple act of staying home or direct support for our healthcare staff, we’re grateful for your solidarity with the Ministry.

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