We’ve started this announcement a bit late today. As I’ve mentioned before, we test for the virus non-stop, 24/7. Positive cases don’t always come about at convenient times. Today we’ve had some late developments that have brought about important changes to our strategy, and we’ve spent the afternoon ensuring we can communicate those changes clearly to the nation.
Before we get started, I know that many of you are concerned about the health of our current COVID-19 patients. I can thankfully report that none of our current active cases have deteriorated into a severe illness. We’re attending to them closely to make sure they have the care they need, when they need it.
I’m afraid that is the only comforting news I have to share today.
After 605 tests in the last 24 hours –– we have five new cases of COVID-19 to report in Fiji.
The first two are close household contacts of previously announced cases, and they have tested positive while secure in quarantine facilities. One is the 25-year-old wife of the case who stayed in Vunimono Nausori and the other is his 52-year-old aunt.
The third case is a former border quarantine passenger who arrived from Papua New Guinea into Nadi on Friday April 9th. He had three negative pre-departure tests before leaving PNG, and tested negative twice while in the Tanoa Hotel border quarantine, before being discharged on April 23rd. He was reswabbed in Navua as part of our investigations into the quarantine breaches at the Tanoa facility, and has subsequently tested positive. He is now in quarantine. We can confirm that he had contact with case number 95 — the husband living in Makoi — on the day of his discharge from the Tanoa quarantine facility. Again this case shows just how punishing any lapses in protocol can be, in particular when you’re dealing with a highly-transmissible variant of this virus.
We have identified 98 people who were discharged from the Tanoa border quarantine facility between April 12th and April 25th, 82 of these people have been contacted and told to home quarantine. Repeat testing of these people is underway, and the remaining 16 are being contacted.
The fourth case is a 68 year old male in Rakiraki. He tested positive after presenting to the Rakiraki hospital outpatients department with a cough and fever. We are yet to establish any direct link between this case and existing cases. Investigations are ongoing while this individual has been entered into quarantine. We are quite sure there are others like him out there. Anyone who is feeling unwell anywhere in Fiji should report immediately to a screening clinic.
The fifth case tested is a border quarantine case. He is a 23-year-old male who travelled from Guyana to Fiji, arriving April 22nd on NZ952 from Auckland. He tested positive while undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantine at a border quarantine facility in Nadi.
Contact tracing for these new cases is underway. We are most concerned with the aunt from Vunimono, as she worked in a garment factory. Her place of work has been shut down since we announced our restrictions on Monday, and we are screening everyone she’s worked with while she may have been contagious. We have contacted the management of the factory she worked in, and the factory next door, and these managers have agreed to work together with us to ensure that their workers are urgently screened tonight. Our plan tonight is to have my teams go house-to-house and swab as many of them as possible — at least 80% if we can. As that investigation progresses, the same principles as always apply — health restrictions may expand or become more stringent lockdown measures, and that could start as soon as tomorrow evening.
Meanwhile, our 110th case –– who is also living in Rakiraki –– still does not have a clearly-established connection to our existing cases. However, thanks to contact tracing, we have leads, but until we’re confident enough to make an official confirmation, all Fijians should continue to behave as if they have been exposed to the virus.
Boundaries in Ra have been set, and the patient’s family are now in quarantine and have been swabbed for testing. We’ve also swabbed another 40 primary contacts of this individual and screened 406 others in Ra. Results are pending.
Meanwhile, case number 111 –– the case from our Makoi cluster that travelled to Vunimono –– is also of high concern because of his extensive travel history since April 14th, when he was first exposed. That’s over two weeks of moving around Viti Levu, so our contact tracing teams are in overdrive working to determine and contact everyone he may have encountered who we determine to be of risk.
We hope that the risk of transmission was lessened by the fact that he, at no point over the past weeks, displayed COVID symptoms. But hope is not a strategy. Because he was engaging in higher-risk activities like drinking grog and sharing cigarettes with friends and family, others very well may have been exposed to the virus. We simply can’t take any chances.
Taken together, these latest cases and existing unknowns point to widespread transmission in the community. We believe we may be in the early part of a very fast-rising upward curve in case numbers. Most Fijians are already taking this threat seriously. You have our thanks. But “most of us” is not enough. Every Fijian must act responsibly, wash your hands often and stay at home. We still have too much movement among the public. Please stay at home, stay still. If there’s one measure that matters more than any, it is that: Stay Home. It is where all of us are safest. And if there is one message I ask everyone watching to help us spread, it is to encourage others to stay home.
If you have an absolutely essential reason to leave the house, wear a mask at all times and turn on your careFIJI app everywhere you go. If you feel unwell, call 158 or visit your nearest screening clinic. If you see crowding happening, don’t add to the problem. Stay away. Stay away as if your life depends on it — it very well may. Crowds aren’t always easy to predict or manage. We know that. We had some crowding issues today outside of this very building. We will be leading by example by offering services from different locations and moving more services online. Essential businesses should follow that lead. If you see crowding, shut your doors, or we will have to ask the authorities to assist you.
In the meantime, our mass public screening is benefitting from people staying at home. We’ve completed the first round of screening in Narere and Cunningham, and have screened over 95% of target populations in Wainivula, Caubati, Tacirua and Makoi, with 144,747 people screened across Viti Levu and many more thousands to go. These screenings do work, especially at identifying high-risk contagious cases of COVID-19 — but just because you have been screened doesn’t mean you are clear to flaunt any of our restrictions. Screening is different from testing, and it is far from as effective as a proper 14 days in quarantine. That is why we will be screening high-risk areas multiple times, as someone screened once may well become a viral carrier days later.
Yesterday I saw some photos of a picnic happening in Lami — one of several high-risk areas in the country. It was mostly young people who were having a bit of a “lockdown party”. That should not have happened there. In fact, it should not happen anywhere. Gatherings are not allowed for the simple reason that congregations of any size can become super-spreader events. In one photo, I counted 19 people piled on top of one another. Mostly young people. If even one of them was carrying COVID-19, that could easily result in 18 more cases.
Young people are generally thought to be at lower risk of severe COVID-19 — but that does not matter. They are not immune – we have seen from other countries that once a large outbreak takes hold, everyone is affected. Young people can also end up being hospitalised and dying. And many of us also share homes with multiple generations. We have children, parents, and grandparents all under one roof. A young person carrying this highly-transmissible variant of the virus from that picnic to their parents or grandparent — someone with a much higher chance of losing their life. This is a fact: Something as simple as a picnic could get people killed. That is why I’m asking every mother and father in Fiji to please keep their children at home. The schools are closed, your children are in your care. It is simple to keep track of them — do it
As I mentioned yesterday, travel through containment areas is highly restricted. We are not issuing day passes to anyone for regular travel across the borders.
We have developed new protocols around funeral arrangements. Deaths are never planned, so funerals are sadly unavoidable events. When a death does occur, we will allow the body to be transported to its final resting place through containment area borders. However, we will only allow the vehicle with one driver to cross the border, and that driver must careFIJI installed and turned on. The driver will be escorted by corrections officers to ensure they remain in the vehicle the entire time they are within the containment area. Let’s not forget this outbreak started at a funeral. When these events are held, we all have to be very disciplined about wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and ensuring no more than 20 people attend.
We have also drafted SOPs for the cartage of essential goods. Within containment zones, the movement of food and essential items does not require approval. Drivers should, however, wear masks and regularly sanitise their hands. They may carry one passenger to assist with deliveries. This passenger should also wear a mask and maintain physical distance as much as possible while unloading goods. Every single driver and passenger must have careFIJI downloaded, and it must be switched on for the entire time they are within a containment zone — no exceptions.
Between containment zones, it requires approval to transport food and essential items. Requests for passes can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org — I hope that’s easy enough to remember for everyone. If you are approved for deliveries, drivers must wear masks, regularly sanitise and keep a physical distance of two metres from others. Again, careFIJI must be installed and on for their entire day of work.
While within the containment zone, the driver must not disembark the vehicle. They should not even lower the windows. Loading and off-loading must be carried out by individuals at the delivery destination. We’ll be publishing the full guidance for containment zone deliveries on the Ministry website and the Fijian Government Facebook page.
These and the rest of our containment protocols can be demanding; we know that. These restrictions are very nearly measures of last resort. They are in effect because lives depend on their being enforced. We do not recommend these measures lightly.
Our goal is the same as yours: To have things back to normal as soon and as safely possible. Please know that the single easiest, most effective way you can help is to stay at home.
Even with COVID in our midst, Fijians still need medical care to treat a range of illnesses. Some of which are just as deadly, if not more, than the coronavirus. Our hospitals are open, and care is being provided in a manner that does not pose a risk of viral transmission, but we do face some shortages of essentials. Some are beyond our control as a result of global supply chain disruptions. There’s one we can solve together. Right now, we face a shortage of blood for transfusions. I want everyone to know that if you can donate blood, it is safe to do so. If you have been partially-vaccinated, you can still give blood. So please keep an eye out for opportunities to do so — we will make sure those details are widely published.
My teams will work through the night to give us all a clearer picture of where we stand with regards to these new cases. If you are called upon, please cooperate with them. They are there to help. Dr Aalisha has another update for us after which we’ll take some quick questions.