Statement by Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong
Last Updated on 2 years by Publishing Team
Bula Vinaka everyone.
I hope everyone has a mask or has made a capable substitute. Importantly –– I hope you are wearing it every time you leave your house. In a taxi, on a bus, in the supermarket –– if you are not at home, wear a mask.
I want to thank all those who have adopted this life-saving habit. Please help us encourage everyone to follow your example, not only to wear a mask but to do it properly, with your mouth and nose both fully covered.
I came into the room with a mask on today. Now that I’m properly distanced from everyone, I have removed the mask so that I can be understood clearly by the public. We’ve asked everyone in the room to have careFIJI downloaded on their phones and make sure it is switched on. Once I’m done speaking, my mask will be going right back on so that I protect myself, my loved ones, and my country.
This virus can travel through the air and through tiny droplets that pass from person-to-person within a close distance. The more Fijians wear masks –– and wear them properly–– and adhere to physical distancing, the better chance we stand at becoming a COVID-Contained country once again.
I want to begin by clarifying some of the restrictions announced yesterday. High-risk businesses have been closed throughout Viti Levu, including in the Nadi and Lautoka Containment Area. We are widening that definition to include all of the following:
Gyms, movie theatres, video gaming shops, cyber cafes, taverns, bars, billiard shops and amusement arcades, as well as hairdressers, barber shops, spas, beauty therapy, massage therapy venues, saunas and tattoo parlours. The nature of these businesses means they cannot operate with proper COVID-safe protocols, including enforced physical distancing of two meters. They should all close everywhere on Viti Levu for at least the next 14 days.
The suspension of international passenger travel takes effect from midnight tonight, with the exception of Fijians travelling for medical purposes and other passengers as approved by the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services.
Testing and contact tracing has continued through last night and into today. I want everyone to know from the start — we have not identified any new clusters of cases in the community.
We have confirmed that two of the children living in Wainitarawau Settlement are positive for COVID-19, a seven-month-old son and a 14-year-old daughter of the 40-year-old case announced yesterday. These two, along with the mother, father, and three other children are all in otherwise fine health in the Navua Hospital isolation ward.
Both children initially tested negative for the virus, on Tuesday April 20th, the day they entered isolation. That gives us a high degree of confidence that they are latent cases, which means they were entered into isolation before they became infectious. So, while the 14-year-old did attend school on Monday April 19th, we believe there is little chance that she passed the virus to others. However, out of an abundance of caution, we will be running a screening exercise based on the daughter’s movements.
I want to remind everyone that we identified this family because they made the patriotic decision to come forward and because they were honest with us about where they had been. Now they will all be getting the treatment they need, and they will no longer pose a risk to others. They deserve our thanks and nothing less. I’ve said before we need to erase the stigma around COVID-19––the virus is the problem, not any one person. We have to –– at all costs–– protect the privacy of Fijians living with the virus. As a Ministry, we rely on this information to contact trace, but there is no benefit to putting that information into the public space.
We’re talking about children here, some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They are anxious, they are scared, and the last thing they need is to have their privacy violated, and their information blasted out online.
The stigmatisation of Fijians living with COVID-19 has very real consequences––when bullies online take advantage of other people’s suffering, Fijians who should come forward may be scared into hiding their travel history, or hiding their symptoms. That culture of stigmatisation can put the entire nation at-risk. So please join me in saying thank you to this family, to the drivers, and to all those who have come forward as potentially having been exposed to the virus. And if you know you had exposure to someone living with COVID-19, please tell us. Call number 158. And stay home until our teams can check on you. Do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it for Fiji.
We have collected samples that will be tested for 200 people who attended the funeral at Tavakubu that was attended by the hotel staff case. We have not confirmed any new positive cases at this time. The window for transmission is still open, and our contact tracing for the funeral continues –– so that may change.
Nasomo in Tavua, has also been identified as a screening zone based on the movements of the case from Wainitarawau Cunningham after the funeral. The same rules established for the Wainitarawau Settlement apply here: No one is allowed to leave. Those who reside in the community may return, but they must stay there for at least the next 14 days.
We are still looking for the minibus driver who drove the hotel staff on the evening of the 17th of April from the Lautoka City minivan stand to Nadi at around 5pm, as well as the passengers of that minibus. After our investigation into the travel history of the mother in Wainitarawau Settlement, we are expanding our contact tracing to individuals who were at Saweni Beach from 10am to 3:30pm on Saturday 17th April 2021. If you were at Saweni Beach during that period, please call 158 right now. Stay home until the Ministry can check on you.
We also have six new border quarantine cases. One is a 38-year-old gentleman who arrived from Malaysia on April 8th. The other five are members of a family that arrived on 8th April from the Philippines, two other members of the same travelling family had tested positive during entry testing; this was announced on April 17th. All of these individuals tested negative on arrival. They did not test positive until the very end of their quarantine period. This is compatible with what the science tells us, that this virus can take up to 14 days to present itself, which is why we use that two-week timeframe as our containment window.
In total, there are now 19 active cases of COVID-19 in Fiji –– that is the highest number of active cases that Fiji has ever registered. 14 of these cases are at the border, and five are locally-transmitted cases. Around the world, these sorts of increases can signal an exponential outbreak on the horizon. While most of our cases are at the border, and the rest are securely in isolation wards, we still have to be prepared for that possibility in Fiji. Our testing lab is running 24/7, and we have substantial quarantine and isolation capacity available that is currently being expanded further as a precaution.
I hope to see our own precautionary steps shared more widely, particularly by the media. Last year, the media, for the most part, were our ally in our COVID-containment strategy. We saw facts-based reporting that helped get Fijians good information, and it was a big reason why we succeeded in containing our outbreak. But we’ve seen a troubling shift towards sensationalism from some outlets. We have seen reporters stalking our health officials, following them into high-risk areas, and rushing to publish half-baked stories with zero context from official sources.
Yesterday, FijiTV and Fiji Times trailed our health officials and members of our disciplined forces into what would later be established as a screening zone. Before we could make the medical assessment that would close off the area, these reporters were in the soon-to-be-screening-zone, speaking with people on camera and filming people’s homes. These reporters not only put themselves at-risk. Due to this being a highly-transmissible virus, that means that their family members and the country at-large were put at-risk as well. What these reporters have done was wrong. Morally and ethically it was wrong. From a public health perspective, it was wrong and it interfered with the good work the Ministry is doing. This isn’t a reality television show, we are dealing with an outbreak of a very deadly virus. Anyone who spends their time shoving cameras, recorders, or mics in the faces of potential COVID patients could end up becoming a COVID patient themselves, and strain the resources of the Ministry even further.
We give these updates every day. We are transparent about every action we are taking. Please respect the work we are doing and wait for official updates once the facts are clearly established. Don’t be reckless with your wellbeing, don’t be rash in your reporting. Lives depend on your responsibility.
Ladies and gentlemen, a shipment of 26,000 doses of COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccines is in the country. We have amended our deployment schedule in light of the current health restrictions. Starting from tomorrow, individuals will be called to come forward on a set timetable to reduce crowding at administration sites. Our main focus is in Nadi due to its close proximity to the airport and quarantine facilities. We will be calling Fijians living with underlying health conditions that increase their risk of severe disease if they get COVID-19, as well as those working in high-risk professions, including retailers, hotel staff, drivers of taxis, minibuses and buses. Members of the media in Suva and in the West, as well as parliamentarians and parliamentary staff will also be called to come forward and be vaccinated. With these vaccines made available to these groups, the Ministry’s advice will soon be that media conferences in confined spaces, such as this one, as well as parliamentary sessions, will only be open to partially and fully vaccinated individuals.
I want to end by applauding the businesses that are opening today with proper COVID-safe protocols in place. Staff are masked, physical distance is being maintained, and all employees and customers are urged to download careFIJI, and switch it on. careFIJI has been downloaded more than 148,000 times as of today –– but we need more and we need everyone who has the app to keep it turned on. It will speed up contact tracing and save lives.
If you are working or shopping anywhere you feel COVID-safe protocols are not being followed––let us know. You can report your concern to Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission over e-mail at email@example.com.
Thank you to all those Fijians who are doing their utmost to aid my teams in containing the spread of this virus. Thank you to the businesses who have lent the Ministry vehicles and drivers to speed up contact tracing. It is in the best interest of every business in Fiji that we contain this outbreak quickly –– and we look forward to their cooperation and whatever support they can offer. Thank you to those who are sharing our advice on your social media pages to spread our messages across the country, especially our friends in the Fijian tourism industry. We cannot say how long it will take to defeat this virus. But the sooner we embrace the role we all must play in stopping the spread; the sooner we all adhere to good habits, like mask-wearing, and good hand hygiene, physical distancing; and the more time we all spend at home; the sooner Fiji will triumph over this virus once again. Do your part. I can assure you, every doctor, nurse, lab technician, and member of our disciplined forces will be doing theirs.