PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA’S STATEMENT ON COVID-19 – (16.09.21)

PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA’S STATEMENT ON COVID-19 – (16.09.21)

Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
As of today, 62% of all adults in the country are fully vaccinated and over 97% have received their first dose –– meaning that Fiji is quickly becoming one of the safest countries in the world. And, as we promised, life can begin to become more familiar to all of us.

Before we explain what’s next, I want to remind everyone what it has taken to get here. Our medical teams have traversed Fiji, trekking highlands and crossing ocean, to make free vaccines available to our people, and hundreds of thousands of Fijians have seized that opportunity to be vaccinated. All of those responsible decisions are steadily adding up, building a powerful wall of protection between Fijians and severe disease and death due to COVID-19. Thank you to the fully vaccinated Fijians who have taken us this far, and thank you to our development partners, India, Australia, and New Zealand for making these vaccines available to us when so many places around the world are struggling with issues of vaccine accessibility.

Now let’s talk about what’s changing. With well over half of adults in Fiji fully vaccinated, our Covid-19 Risk Mitigation Taskforce –– which includes our top medical and policy experts –– has developed a careful framework that details the next phase of our response.

From tomorrow, 17 September 2021:

  • At 4am, the containment area borders will lift everywhere on Viti Levu. Domestic travel will be open everywhere on Viti Levu. Inter-island travel, however, will remain highly controlled, including to Vanua Levu, until we achieve higher vaccination coverage in Vanua Levu and our outer islands. With domestic travel open, public service vehicles will be able to operate at 70% capacity. Employers who were required under COVID-safe measures to transport staff to and from work will no longer need to do so.
  • The curfew hours for Viti Levu will be from 9 pm until 4 am.
  • Everywhere in Fiji, social gatherings of up to 20 people will be permitted indoors in people’s homes. For outdoor venues, we will allow gatherings of up to 30 people.
 And finally, from 4 October, all workplaces, tertiary institutions, houses of worship, hotels, restaurants, cafés, cinemas, gyms, pools, and tattoo parlours will be able to open at 70% capacity, but only to fully-vaccinated persons. As part of our Vaccination Authentication Exercise –– we will be rolling out a VAX-Check tool that allows for real-time digital verification of vaccine status that venues can use to confirm the vaccine status of their patrons. When the doors of these venues open, all other COVID-safe measures must be strictly enforced. That means masks must be worn, two metres of physical distance should be maintained where possible, and careFIJI must be installed on everyone’s phones, with Bluetooth switched on. These relaxations are not for anyone to tread carelessly. We’re introducing new regulations that allow for spot checks on venues, businesses   and houses of worship. Those who do not respect these measures risk serious fines or being shut down.  I repeat you will be fined heavily or shut down if you do not follow these regulations.

My fellow Fijians, we must wield these new freedoms responsibly. Our journey to the new normal is a marathon, not a sprint. We have to move forward in step with the science at a careful and responsible pace. This war is not over and defence is to continue to test, trace, and isolate COVID-19 positive patients. So, if you are feeling unwell, please stay home. And please continue to keep a careful eye on those most vulnerable –– the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. We have to protect these Fijians. Community leaders should continue to keep careful track of who exits and enters their communities. Employers should continue to enforce COVID-safe practices for their staff and their customers. And leaders in houses of worship should be sure their devotees are adherent to COVID-safe practices as well.

Soon, we’ll publish the vaccination rates of all areas along the King and Queen’s highways and other major routes so that travellers know which areas are safest to stop to take a rest, fill in fuel, buy vegetables, coconuts to drink or hot corn or BBQ to eat. Everyone should read that list carefully before getting in the car and heading anywhere. Our advice is to avoid areas with lower vaccination coverage. If you are an unvaccinated Fijian living in an area with low vaccine coverage, do not wait another day to get the jab. And if you are only partially-vaccinated, please maintain strict adherence to every COVID-safe measure and make sure to get your second jab.

My fellow Fijians, most us are doing what needs to be done to end this deadly outbreak, and that has put us on track to hit the 70% and 80% thresholds for the full vaccination of our target population faster than we ever dared to hope.

At the 70% threshold, the curfew hours for Viti Levu will move from 10pm to 4am. At the 80% threshold, the curfew will be from 11pm to 4am, we expect that all businesses will fully re-open to fully-vaccinated Fijians, all sports –– including team sports –– can be played again, like rugby, football and netball, and stadiums can re-open. In short, life in Fiji will look much like it did before this second wave of the virus struck us. But we need to strive for more than the Fiji of six months ago. Our goal is to free our country –– and our economy –– from the rut of the pandemic.

For the sake of the tens of thousands of Fijians –– and their families –– who depend on our tourism industry, we are also preparing to re-open Fiji as one of the world’s safest tourism destinations. That re-opening depends on more than our vaccination rates –– it depends on the vaccination rates of other countries, as well as a great deal of work behind the scenes. For Fiji’s part, we are ticking every box of readiness.

Fiji Airways has achieved the highest possible SKYTRAX 5-Star COVID-19 Airline Safety Rating and the Diamond certification by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and Simplifying, and very nearly every hotel and tour operator in Fiji is Care Fiji Commitment certified.

Our plan is not to open quarantine-free travel with the entire world in one go. It will be gradual, starting with travellers from exclusive “green list” areas with similarly high rates of vaccination to ours and low test positivity rates. Once we vaccine at least 80% of adults in Fiji, we will be in an excellent position to open quarantine-free travel with other countries that have deployed the same Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines we are using in Fiji. At this point, that includes Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Korea, Singapore, and parts of the USA.  We will be establishing mutually recognised vaccine protocol agreements with these governments, which essentially shows that we are comfortable with their levels of vaccine coverage and that we can rely on the vaccine status of their travellers and, vice versa, that Fijians can prove their vaccine status when travelling abroad.

Travellers from these potential green list areas must be fully vaccinated and receive pre-departure approval, which will be easily obtained online. Through they are fully vaccinated, these travellers must also register a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of boarding their flight to Fiji.

Once they arrive, these travellers can vacation in designated travel safe areas where they can enjoy the best of Fiji knowing that everyone they interact with will be fully vaccinated, from their fellow guests, to the hotel staff, to the tour operators. We’re drawing up the boundaries of these travel safe areas in close cooperation with the tourism industry. We will have regular in-country testing and clear protocols in the event of breakthrough infections. At the rate we are going, we expect to be ready to accept travellers well before our goal of celebrating Christmas in Fiji with our friends from around the world. In fact, we are looking at re-opening as soon as this November. While much of that depends on the next several weeks and what the science informs us is safest, I want the Fijians who depend on tourism to know –– we are everything possible to get you back to work and bring this industry back from the brink.

Of course, our well-established protocols for quarantine centres will remain in effect for people who are not vaccinated or who are not travelling to Fiji from a green list country. And we are also accommodating for the long-awaited reunions between friends and family throughout the Fijian diaspora. Fully vaccinated travellers from green list countries can travel throughout Fiji after spending five days within a travel safe area, and clearing another negative COVID-19 test result.

Now I’d like to turn things over to Dr Fong. He’s going to detail how the next phase of our vaccine rollout supports our plan to get our students back into classrooms.

But before I do, don’t forget –– the next draw for our Win Together Vaccine Sweepstakes this Fiji Day, 10 October, where ten winners will receive 5,100 dollars each for taking the time to become fully vaccinated.

Thank you for being with us this afternoon. Rest assured, a stronger and safer Fiji is within our reach.

God Bless you all.

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