My fellow Fijians, we have the tools and the knowledge to fight the coronavirus and win — but too many of us are not doing enough to slow the spread and save lives. From next week, we are ramping up our vaccination campaign and giving new teeth to the enforcement of our health protection measures.
The good news is that the coronavirus vaccines are working and we are deploying them quickly. The AstraZeneca vaccine, which we are administering in Fiji, does very well — it has been shown to offer 92% protection against hospitalization from the Delta variant of COVID-19 present in the country. With other — potentially deadlier — variants spreading around the world, including the highly contagious lambda variant next door in Australia, we cannot afford to waste time getting vaccinated and getting back the lives and livelihoods we know and love.As the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services, Dr Fong has explained many times, vaccines work on a known principle–-that by exposing each of us to a weakened form of the disease, we can teach our body’s immune system to fight it. A vaccine cannot cause the illness once injected. Instead, it teaches the body how to fight the real virus and protects us from death and severe disease.

I would not ask you to accept any medical treatment that I would not accept for myself. By getting both doses of the vaccine, I have helped protect my family, my friends and all the people who work with me in my ministries and all of the ordinary citizens I interact with on a daily basis. You can do the same at no cost to you. Australia, India, and New Zealand have supplied enough vaccines to protect every adult in Fiji. We have been deploying vaccines nearly as quickly as they arrive; administering a steady average of 40,000 doses of vaccines every week.

I can tell you I have not been magnetized or microchipped by the vaccine. I have not received the mark of the beast, or any other creature. The vaccine does not do that to anyone — Not me nor any of the over 335,000 Fijians who have already received one or both doses. That includes the church leaders, our Olympians, business leaders and everyday Fijians who want to keep their nation safe. The foolish few who sow doubt about the vaccine are speaking lies in defiance of faith, of facts, and of the duty of care that every Fijian owes to themselves and each other. Their lies can only lead to sad and preventable death from COVID-19.

We must not fall prey to their false theories and prophecies. God gave us brains so we can use them. It is He who guided the hands of the scientists and doctors who developed these vaccines to protect us. And we must accept them because they are proven to work well and because they are proven to be safe.

What is unsafe is the virus. I understand that steam therapy and hot drinks are a comfort for some. You are free to try these treatments, though we must all understand that they are not a substitute for being vaccinated. Vaccines are the best possible protection, not only for us but for those around us; those in our homes; those who ride the bus with us; those who share our places of work. Remember, this is not only about protecting ourselves — getting vaccinated is a responsibility we all owe to each other.

As I’ve said, over 335,000 Fijians have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Our target population for vaccination is 586,651 adults. By 1 November 2021, we expect to have at least 80% of that group fully vaccinated, that means two doses. Until that day arrives, we must demonstrate the basic responsibility to adhere to all of our COVID-safe measures.

We have not locked everyone in their homes for all hours of the day. A period of 28 days of a hard lockdown — as some are calling for — cannot be strictly enforced everywhere in Fiji and our experts tell us it would not kill off the virus. But it would kill jobs and it could kill our country’s future. Instead, we have given you the ability to shop for food, withdraw money, access medicine, go to work and sustain your livelihoods to provide for your families — but that freedom comes with responsibility because every Fijian deserves to go about their business with an assurance of safety – to interact, to transact, to shop, and to work under COVID safe protocols.

That is why we are asking that all employers and employees in Fiji — including civil servants — be vaccinated as a condition of their employment. From the view of your government, asking civil servants to be vaccinated falls well in line with the duty of care we owe you and every Fijian. We in government strive to be best possible servants of the people, and we cannot serve the people if we are sick or if we can be carriers of a deadly virus. And I thank the many Fijians, like the General Secretary of the Fiji Public Service Association for backing our campaign to protect Fiji through vaccines.

Under the Fijian Constitution, guidelines can be issued by government to which all civil servants must adhere. Civil servants who have not received their first dose of the vaccine must go on leave from Monday next week. They cannot come back to work until they receive at least the first dose of the vaccine. That must be done by 15 August 2021, after which they may return to work so long as they go on to be fully vaccinated by 1 November 2021.  If they do not adhere to these guidelines they will be dismissed from work.

The management and staff of many businesses in Fiji are already fully vaccinated, which is wonderful. All others in the private sector must follow their lead. In accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act, we are requiring that all employers and employees in the private sector and statutory bodies receive at least one dose of the vaccine by 1 August 2021. It is simply unfair for anyone to risk the health of their co-workers or their customers, or risk undermining a business’s operations because they refuse to get a vaccination that is known to be safe and effective. It does not matter if you are the CEO of a company, a sole trader, or a salaried employee — you must be vaccinated to continue working or else that business will risk being shut down. No jabs, no job — that is what the science tells us is safest and that is now the policy of government and enforced through law.

Extensions to time frames will be granted for employers and employees located in areas where vaccines are not yet available. For the vast majority of Fijians, being vaccinated can happen very soon and very easily. We have vaccination centres open throughout the country, even drive-thru vaccine centres where you can be vaccinated in the comfort of your car. Of course, those with medically-certifiable allergies to the vaccine –– with proper certification only by the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services –– will be exempt.  The AG and Minister for Civil Service will provide the full details of the civil service guidelines and the relevant regulations.

My fellow Fijians, the end of this ordeal will come. Until it does, we must remain vigilant until more of us are protected. Get vaccinated. Wear your mask. Maintain physical distance from others. Install the careFIJI app we’ve developed to protect you. And adhere to the instructions from Dr James Fong and his health teams.

These simple measures slow the spread and prevent more cases of severe disease and death, and they should all be obvious to everyone by now. We’re going to every length imaginable to get the word out. We’ve published this guidance everywhere we can –– on billboards, on radio, on social media, and on television –– in all three languages. And we’ve been doing so for more than one year. We even have teams of people –– including the RFMF going around with hailers to communities telling adults to wear masks, to not share cigarettes or bowls of grog, and respect the rules we have in place. These are not children we’re trying to reach, these are full-grown adults. Still, some will not listen. Because common sense is not so common for some, new penalties will take effect from next week:

–    If you’re one of the fools mucking about in public without a mask, you will receive a fine on the spot.
–    If you do not comply with the curfew hours, you will be fined.
–    If patrons of your business are not wearing a mask, they will be fined and so will your business.
–    If you hold any social gathering; if you play contact sports; if you violate a home quarantine or isolation order; if you consume kava or liquor with others outside of your home; or if you leave a containment area, you will be fined.

The Police, designated staff of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport and the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission will be given powers to enforce these new penalties. The full list of offences and penalties will be published on the Fijian Government Facebook page. You’ll see there that these on the spot fines range from 20 dollars for individuals and up to 4,000 dollars to companies depending on the severity of the offence. We’re serving fines so that we don’t crowd our cells with offenders. We hope these fines serve as a deterrence. We don’t want to lock people up and we don’t want your money. We want you to follow the rules. This is a matter of saving lives — and we will not hesitate to punish the reckless rule-breakers whose actions put the rest of the nation at risk.

While many Fijian businesses have been able to safely re-open, we know there are still thousands of Fijians who cannot return to work because our borders are still closed. Yesterday, we paid out another 10.2 million dollars in fifty-dollar payments to 205,000 Fijians in the informal sector. We had 353,416 Fijians apply for this programme. However out of this, 65,275 applied with more than one sim card.  65,224 were already recipients of unemployment benefits under the FNPF scheme.  21,000 were already recipients of welfare payments, TELS, Toppers and were under the age of 18.  So these tens of thousands did not qualify because they already were receiving other forms of assistance.   We even had one person who has tricked his way into being paid out eight times. He will now miss out on the next eight rounds of assistance. Other people have been submitting phony phone numbers to squeeze out more assistance they are entitled to receive. We should not tolerate double-dippers. When you take advantage of our assistance, you aren’t just stealing from government. You are stealing from your friends and neighbours. You are stealing from Fijians who need that assistance. So if you have stolen, if you have been dishonest, if you have been selfish, don’t complain if you don’t get assistance and don’t complain if you are prosecuted under the law.

I know many of us are doing the right thing. We are being honest. We are playing by the rules. We are wearing our masks. We are being vaccinated. We are maintaining physical distance from others and we are staying in our bubbles. The Northern and Eastern divisions remain COVID-Contained, and we are working hard to keep them that way. Everywhere in Fiji, there are businesses operating safely. People are working and gathering online. Farmers are working hard to feed our people. Thanks to our sugar cane farmers, our mills are processing higher-than-expected volumes of cane. Our healthcare personnel are treating patients and vaccinating Fijians around the country. The best way to support their hard work and sacrifice is to be vaccinated. I am asking every Fijian to roll up their sleeves — as I have done — and seize this opportunity. If you have not gotten your first dose, arrange to do it. If you have gotten your first dose, make sure you show up for dose number two. Encourage your family and neighbours to seize this priceless opportunity to protect ourselves and recapture our way of life. We can protect those most vulnerable. We can get fully back to work and school like we always did. We can bring the tourists back and the jobs they support. We can gather together in groups large and small – – for sports, for worship or just because we love our friends and neighbours. We can do this very simply if we all get vaccinated. Let’s go Fiji, let’s get this done and let’s make our country safe again.

Thank you. God Bless you all; God Bless Fiji.

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