Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Representative of Development Partners;
Ministry of Health and Medical Services Staff;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
From the moment the risk of a serious global outbreak of COVID-19 became clear, my Government has pursued every proven medically-sound pathway at our disposal to protect the Fijian people. Today, we welcome our latest – and most advanced–measure yet in our comprehensive COVID-19 action plan: the new molecular laboratory at the Fiji Centre for Disease Control. Essentially, this new lab means we can test for the virus directly in Fiji rather than spend time and money shipping samples for testing overseas, as we’ve been doing up until today.
But before we get into the specifics of Fiji’s newest testing capabilities, I’d like to share the latest on the global spread of COVID-19.
As of today, 11 March, 2020, the virus is present in over 100 countries and territories with over 110,000 cases confirmed. Fiji has no confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The fast-moving spread of the virus is inching the outbreak closer to a pandemic-level emergency by the day. Fiji isn’t waiting for that announcement; we’re acting with urgency to protect our people and ensure we are fully capable of aggressively identifying, isolating and treating any case of the COVID-19 in Fiji.
Our borders remain closed to all foreign nationals who have been present in mainland China, Italy, Iran or South Korea within 14 days of their intended travel to Fiji – each of these travel blocks have been carefully considered following rapid upticks in COVID-19 cases in these nations. These bans have bought us precious time – for every day Fiji has remained coronavirus-free, we have had another vital day to prepare. We are constantly reviewing the WHO’s latest case numbers and we will not hesitate to introduce new and more stringent restrictions when necessary.
But travel bans are only one piece of our COVID-19 response plan. By working closely with international carriers – especially our national carrier, Fiji Airways –we’ve tremendously stepped up our screening of international air passengers from all countries. After undergoing strict medical and travel checks, passengers are screened with hand-held temperature scanners the moment they land. And we’re actually in the process of installing thermal scanners at our international airports as well. I’ve explained in detail before what’s happening for travellers at sea. As a reminder, all cruise ships are required to make first berth in either Suva or Lautoka, where all crew and passengers are then thoroughly screened.
Never before in Fijian history has such a comprehensive, nation-wide response plan been implemented so effectively or so quickly. Every time a suspected case of the virus has arisen, it has been tested. All test results to-date have returned negative.
I want to applaud the health professionals and staff here today and across Fiji for their impressive and professional handling of our preparatory efforts so far. You don’t get anywhere near enough credit for the hours – including sleepless nights – and expertise you’ve given our nation-wide COVID-19 response effort. The facts supporting your good work do not justify the flames of frenzy we’ve seen stoked by the politicians who have been trying to discredit you and your life-saving efforts to protect your fellow Fijians.
My message to you is: Keep up the good job, and stay diligent. We will empower you to do what must be done to keep our people safe. I know you face a great deal of questions and concerns from your friends and members of your community – always, always, always refer them to the WHO and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services for information, as these are the only reliable sources for any updates related to COVID-19.
Up until today, all test samples in Fiji have had to be shipped to Australia. While this has served our needs to-date, the process was burdensome and time-consuming.
But now, with the opening of this new molecular lab, we’ll now be able to process up to 20 samples at a time, with results in-hand. in as little as six to eight hours. When you’re dealing with a disease that spreads as quickly as COVID-19, every hour saved is critical to containment – so we cannot overstate the vital importance of this new testing facility.
Long before the novel coronavirus emerged, we were preparing Fiji for precisely this type of global crisis. We know that, as a small island state with an economic engine fueled by the Tourism Industry, we are vulnerable to any type of viral outbreak.
That’s why, in recent years, we have been aggressively investing in our medical facilities, acquiring new, state-of-the-art equipment and recruiting essential health-care workers. In fact, in our previous national Budget, we invested in expanding the capabilities and infrastructure of the National Public Health Laboratory here at the Fiji CDC in Tamavua. That paved the way for projects like this new molecular laboratory, and in doing so, has made Fiji safer, more prepared, and more capable of containing COVID-19.
But the road to combating coronavirus doesn’t stop here. We’re blessed to have been spared so far, but with the majority of countries on Earth reporting cases, we need to prepare as a matter of when, not if, we will see the first case in Fiji.
That’s why I urge all Fijians to act with the utmost precaution, and exercise the habits and hygiene necessary to stop the spread.
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets whenever someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. So wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough and sneeze, and avoid sharing drinking cups – including bilos and takis, as hard as that may be! By working together, and remaining vigilant, we can keep our families, our communities, and our country safe from harm.
I’d like to extend a special thanks to those who worked with our Government to help make this lab a reality – the World Health Organization and the Australian Government. The global scale of the COVID-19 threat demands the highest levels of global co-operation. This is not the time for any nation to turn their backs on the international community, only together, can combat the spread of COVID-19 and come out of this crisis stronger.
And with the introduction of this new lab testing equipment – alongside the rest of our nation-wide preparations – Fiji is fully prepared to tackle any case of COVID-19 in the country, keep our people safe and do our part in the global campaign to contain this virus.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.