I’ll start today with better news –– we’ve added some invaluable new tools to our arsenal that will help us expand, and quicken, our COVID-19 laboratory testing. As of 9:00 this morning, we have received four new GeneXpert machines, which together have the capacity to run 384 extra COVID-19 tests in 24 hours.
Combining this with our existing capacity we are now able to run at least 1,128 tests per day right here at home. That expanded capacity will prove critical as we look ahead, and target our tracing efforts on proven, positive cases. And we’re already putting them to good use.
Where we stand today, after 685 laboratory tests and 20,201 in-person health screenings yesterday, we have two new cases of COVID-19 to report.
One patient, our 110th, is of some concern, and it will require additional investigation into his contacts to determine if he is definitively linked to other active cases. He is a 53-year old caretaker of the Ra Provincial Office, and he showed symptoms of COVID –– in his case, those were body aches –– when he visited the Nanukuloa Health Centre on 24th April. He has been moved securely to the isolation ward at Lautoka Hospital, per standard operating procedure.
First of all, I want to thank this Fijian. He felt symptoms, and he reported them. That was the exact right thing to do. He’s now getting the care he needs and he no longer poses a threat to anyone. His family members have been swabbed. And Fiji is a safer country because of it.
All of his family members have been quarantined at the Ra Special school with Police officers providing security at the facility. The FIji Police Force have also established Naiserelagi Village, Nanukuloa Village and Dokonavatu Settlement as containment zones. Fifty primary and secondary contacts were identified and screened for fever and symptoms. All households in Nanukuloa Village, Naiserelagi Village and Dokonavatu Settlement have been informed to stay home until further notice.
There are others out there who may have had contact with this individual. We need all Fijians living in the Rakiraki area to be alert to any potential COVID-19 symptoms; and if you’re feeling unwell, follow this man’s example and either visit your nearest screening clinic or dial 158 for the Ministry of Health to come to your home to check on you. There are screening clinics at the Rakiraki Divisional Hospital tent, Nasau Health Centre, Namarai Health Centre, Nanukuloa Health Centre, Nasau Health Centre, and in Rakiraki Town, there is a Screening tent erected just opposite the police station. And wherever you go, turn on the careFIJI app.
The second of today’s new cases is more clear-cut: A 25-year old male who had stayed at the house of the lady from Makoi, our 95th case. We established that he was a close contact through our contact tracing, and we tested him because of that close contact despite the fact that he had no symptoms. He stayed in Makoi from 12th to 19th of April and he went to Vunimono, Nausori where he was retrieved and swabbed. We have 4 teams facilitating contact tracing based on his travel history. He has been securely transferred to an isolation unit in Colo I Suva. His primary contacts are also quarantined at the Colo I Suva.
This is an important point to understand. Effective contract tracing allowed us to catch this man’s infection early and stop further spread of the Makoi cluster. So please remember to cooperate fully with our contract-tracing teams when they call on you. Give them thorough information about your movements and the people you have come into contact with. This protects you and your fellow Fijians.
That brings the total number of known COVID cases in Fiji to 111 since our first case was detected on March 19th 2020. 44 of these cases are currently active and isolated.
We remain in a period of nationwide containment, but these two latest clusters indicate to us that this virus has spread to localities in several different areas of Viti Levu. These two weeks will define the next two months for Fiji, and we all need to behave like we have COVID, even if there are no known cases in our community or we are showing no symptoms of the virus. By doing so –– and thereby wearing masks, staying at home, and turning on your careFIJI app –– you’re saving lives.
To aid our contact tracing, the full list of focal points of our contact tracing will be advertised in the newspapers and posted on the Fijian Government Facebook page. Fijians who were present at any of the following locations at the following times should call 158.
With every new case, this crisis takes on a new, more personal meaning for more Fijians. Not only for family members, but for neighbors, and for entire communities. Most of us have heard the basic rules for staying safe before. But many of us may have had a false sense of security through our long period of national COVID-containment, and we may have let down our guard, so they bear repeating:
Rule number one is to stay home unless you have an essential reason to leave.
You should not mix with anyone who doesn’t share your home with you.
No sports of any kind should be played.
Save for small funeral ceremonies, no non-work gatherings of any size should take place. In fact, you should not come within two metres of anyone if you can help it.
Anywhere you go outside of your home, you should have on a mask or face covering.
Wash your hands well and often. Use sanitiser when you see it.
Businesses that are not on the list of essential services should close.
You should not share takis, bilos or cigarettes. Any person-to-person interaction — even a maskless conversation — can put you at-risk.
And please download careFIJI, and keep it switched on when you are in public spaces. It does not sap data and battery. All it requires is your personal commitment to use it.
A lot of people are asking us to make more of our measures and advice compulsory. Some things can be mandated. We can establish a checkpoint at a certain junction. We can require people to wear masks. But do we really think the government can check every phone, home, and workplace in the country? We can’t.
But you — as members of the public — can make these things compulsory for yourselves. If we all take personal responsibility and make ourselves accountable for following these rules, we won’t need further action by law enforcement–and we will defeat this virus once again.
Every Fijian should live by a personal mandate to wash their hands, wear their masks, download careFIJI — AND MAKE SURE IT IS TURNED ON — and keep their physical distance from others. The Ministry cannot make you do all of these things all of the time. Only you can. The Ministry cannot barricade the doors of your home, but you can control who enters and exits. My teams cannot stand over you and count the seconds you take to wash your hands; only you can make sure you wash your hands thoroughly.
We are also strengthening movement restrictions between containment areas from today. Everyone has had ample time to return to where they reside, so we don’t expect public vehicles such as taxis and buses to cross containment area borders. As of now, all passes to facilitate movement across containment zones will be issued by MOHMS. This will be reserved for medical emergencies and other exceptional circumstances, including funeral arrangements. The list of dialysis patients is also at the border with the police teams. However, we strongly encourage these patients to enter and stay within the lockdown for the next 14 days. The exchange of food and medicines supply can be facilitated at the border provided delivery arrangements to the border and from the border to the recipient is organized by requesting party.
There is a reason we have kept supermarkets, banks, and pharmacies open — it is so people can acquire essentials, like food to eat and medicine they need. Within containment areas, we are working with the private sector to ensure every Fijian has access to what they need within the containment area in which they reside. No one should have any excuse to leave a containment area to access these essential services.
There’s a great deal of frustration among the public, and on social media, aimed at the quarantine guards that were at the epicenter of this latest outbreak. Please, this is not a time for finger-pointing or blaming. The fact that quarantine guards, who were on the front lines of containing COVID for a full year, suffered a lapse that allowed the virus to escape into Viti Levu is evidence of how unforgiving this virus is of even the smallest lack of care or act of forgetfulness. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you. So please be vigilant. And be relentless in following the procedures the experts have laid out for staying safe.
We all want this to be over as soon as possible. To make that happen, we need everyone to stay at home. The more of us do, the better chance we have at becoming COVID-Contained again.
Across the country, many Fijians — out of concern for themselves and those they love — are taking our advice to heart. I was sent some photos today from Serua Province of community leaders implementing lockdown measures to protect the families in the area. No one mandated them to act. They’ve done so for the simple reason that they care about protecting their communities.
Our Hon Prime Minister wants to be sure this message reaches every Fijian who needs to hear it, so he has asked that this entire statement be translated into the vernacular languages. I encourage leaders looking to inspire urgency within their communities to share our messages, and then do one better by seeing our health measures enacted at the community level.
There are still people who think they won’t be affected. Plenty of people around the world thought the same before COVID devastated their countries. Their tragedy is our teacher. That lesson should not fall on deaf ears. We have to deal with the reality we face — and we face a very real threat to the lives of thousands of Fijians. Some of that threat is still unaccounted for and none of us are immune from its terrible consequences.
But there is also hope on the horizon. Our latest batch of COVID-19 vaccines are in the country, we are administering them to targeted high-risk groups as I speak. More shipments will come. More Fijians will be protected. But until the day we achieve herd immunity, our health measures must be followed by everyone. After 30 days of decisive containment last year we’ve seen what short-term sacrifice can deliver for the country — we spent an entire year free from this virus in our communities.
I can’t promise these sacrifices will pass as quickly. But I can promise you this: They will save lives. So follow them. Help us keep Fiji safe.
After Dr Aalisha provides an additional update on our cases, we’ll be taking questions. Rather than re-tread any ground we’ve already covered — as has become a time-wasting habit — we’re asking media organisations to pose one question each. Please, let’s make it focussed on medically-verifiable reality.