Bula Vinaka –– it is wonderful to be with you.
This morning I was at one of the many sites of Fiji’s education revolution –– the Nadi Muslim Primary School. Seeing the students able to take their classes and be with their friends, I could not help but think how lucky we all are that our children can be in school when so many around the world cannot.
With global coronavirus infections surpassing 40 million, most people on Earth live under constant threat of infection from the deadly coronavirus –– but not here, not in Fiji. And that is owed to each of you. Our nurses, our doctors, our CDC lab technicians, and the Members of our Disciplined Forces who have kept Fiji COVID-Contained.
This pandemic is the most sudden and devastating global event in 100 years. Every nation was caught on their heels. But in those crucial early months, Fiji was one of the few which did everything right. And we have since achieved the world’s most remarkable record at containing this deadly disease.
Some countries are COVID-free because they shut their borders completely –– even to their own people –– and never had the coronavirus. But Fiji actually dealt with an outbreak and, together, we beat it. Our testing was fast, early, and effective, achieving one of the world’s lowest positivity rates. Fiji systematically identified and quarantined every known contact of every single case in the country and broke every chain of transmission.
Even when Cyclone Harold struck us smack in the middle of our outbreak, our containment campaign was not blown off course.
And through it all, we never turned our backs on Fijians around the world. With stringent infection protocols in place, we have safely repatriated our people without risking public well-being. And we have now gone 186 days without a new case outside of a secure border quarantine facility.
Our leadership has not only saved lives in Fiji, but beyond our borders as well.
That is because many of the measures we implemented have been replicated elsewhere –– such as mandating quarantine for Healthcare workers, the use of Disciplined Forces to monitor our border quarantine facilities, and the mandatory testing of those in border quarantine before release.
We should not only be proud of what we have done, but of how we have done it. Yes, we have been strict in enforcing our protocols without exception. But through it all, you have each shown why our people are so famed for our hospitality. Whether you have helped clear visitors through our Blue Lanes initiative or welcomed Fijians returning home from overseas, you have been firm, but friendly. Professional, but compassionate.
When people are dealing with a stressful situation like quarantine or isolation, that quality of care means a great deal. I assure you, it does not go unnoticed, and it will not be forgotten.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we recently confirmed a new border quarantine case of the coronavirus in a gentleman who travelled here from India on the 5th of October. Our strict infection control protocols mean he does not present a risk to the public.
He is in stable condition at the Lautoka Hospital isolation ward, where a number of your colleagues are attending to him as we speak. As per protocol, they will live and work in the isolation ward for up to 14 days, and then spend another 14 days in quarantine before re-entering the public.
Even as you work –– quite literally –– in isolation, know that none of you are in this effort alone. Your nation is with you, we are invested in your success, and we deeply appreciate the great sacrifices you are making. We understand you are more than our healthcare heroes, that you are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbours –– and that you have given up time with those you love for the sake of our safety. And we are grateful. We are grateful every time we lace up our boots for a game of rugby or football.
We are grateful every morning businesses are able to open their doors and sustain employment for our people. We are grateful every day our children board the bus to school.
You are the guardians of all those privileges we enjoy, and your vigilance matters today as much as it did this past March when Fiji confirmed its first case.
For the foreseeable future, the secure management of border quarantine facilities is our new normal. We will continue to repatriate our people. We have re-opened our borders to those with work permits. And we are involved in exploratory discussions to re-open higher volumes of travel with our regional development partners.
All of those efforts depend on you –– our frontline healthcare teams, the members of our disciplined forces, and our other border control officials. We need you to stay the course, and we’re ready to support you in every way we can.
We have made sure you have access to all the proper protective gear, but we know this is an insidious virus, and the risk of infection always remains. We have recently refurbished the George Mate Military Hospital in the Nabua Military Barracks to serve as the isolation facility for any frontline healthcare worker or member of our disciplined forces who contracts this disease. In the meantime, if you see a need for additional equipment, let it be known, and we will get it for you.
On the day of our 50th Anniversary of Independence, we unveiled a monument in the heart of Suva City to mark that half-century milestone for our nation. It’s a beautiful piece of history which I hope you all have the chance to see for yourselves. On it, there is an inscription which reads:
“Dedicated to all frontline border control and healthcare workers who worked tirelessly to protect their fellow Fijians during the COVID-19 pandemic”
Going into this year, we did not know our nation’s 50th birthday would be met by one of our nation’s greatest-ever challenges. But thanks to each you we have risen to meet that great adversity. We have kept our people safe, and I promise you that future generations of Fijians will know what you have done.
Many will follow in your footsteps into the medical field and into the ranks of our disciplined forces, where they will strive to live up to the example you have set.
So long as the pandemic rages overseas, our people are at-risk and we cannot afford to operate at anything less than our very best. Thank you again for all you have done, and thank you for the tireless effort you will continue to give.
God Bless you all.