Bula Vinaka and good afternoon.
As we announced in the early hours of the morning, Fiji is once again faced with a grave and present danger to the lives of our people. We have confirmed our first local case of COVID-19 in more than one year, and we must act quickly to stop it from spreading.
This virus is not a new enemy, we have faced it before, we have defeated it before. We have the knowledge and the expertise to defeat it again. Like before, our success depends on the discipline of every Fijian and our adherence to the measures that we know can keep us safe. We have already fully mobilized our containment strategy, using the same tactics that led to the successful eradication of community cases in just one month, around this same time last year. As announced over the weekend, we detected a case of COVID-19 in a soldier who was working in a border quarantine facility. While he was carrying the virus, he had interaction with daytime staff of the facility.In a matter of hours, we identified his 69 first generation contacts meaning anyone with any chance of being a close contact and entered them into quarantine.
All of them have been tested. 68 have tested negative. One has tested positive. Our positive patient is a 53-year-old woman working as a maid in the quarantine facility. Our investigation has revealed she had an interaction with the soldier when he showed up early to his room as it was being cleaned. Protocol dictates that overlap should not have happened, that is why the woman was not tested before re-entering the public. We’ll have to wait and see what further investigations reveal. What is clear today is that this breach in protocol cannot be repeated. In the meantime, we are confident that our system of border quarantine can function to the high degree it has over the past year.
The woman is a daytime worker and she resides in Nadi. It has been revealed that she had symptoms on Thursday, and authorities were not notified. That means she was contagious when she was at work on Thursday and later on Friday and Saturday when she traveled through the Lautoka and Nadi areas. Perhaps most worryingly, she attended a funeral in Tavakubu Lautoka on Friday and Saturday, traveling alongside other passengers by minivan. Her movement using public transport, and her attendance – – in close proximity alongside many other Fijians –– at the two-day funeral, makes further transmission in the community highly likely.
To limit the risk of mass community transmission, and to better screen the local population, we have established a Nadi and Lautoka Containment Area and brought new stringent health protection measures into effect. The Nadi and Lautoka Containment Area has been established from Qeleloa bearing towards Sigatoka, to Nacilau, Vakabuli, and the Waiwai Crossing bearing towards Ba. Ministry of Health and Medical Services personnel and disciplined forces 4 have rapidly established screening points at these entry points. A 24-hour curfew for the entire containment area was announced this morning to allow our contact tracing teams to trace, identify, and quarantine those who may have had contact with this community case, and lay the groundwork to flush out any other cases of the virus from our communities. From this afternoon, we will be allowing for limited movement and COVID-safe activity within the Containment Area. These measures are stringent enough to minimise risk, but smart enough to allow people to have some sense of normalcy in their lives.
The curfew hours will revert to 2300 hours to 0400 hours. Supermarkets and shops selling food can open so that people can buy food. Banks can open so that people can get money. Pharmacies can open so that people can get medicine. FNPF can open so that people can access funds. Other businesses, such as factories and shops, can open as well. However, it is vital that vendors and businesses ensure strict physical distancing before opening their doors. Make sure 5 customers in queues are spaced out by two metres and manage crowding. Customer-facing businesses should limit customer capacity to 50%. Businesses that do not manage these risks with COVID-safe plans will be shut down. Within the Nadi and Lautoka Containment Area, higher-risk businesses, such as gyms, movie theatres, video gaming shops, cyber cafes, taverns, bars, billiard shops and amusement arcades cannot open for at least the next 14 days. Restaurants may not open for in-person dining, but may offer delivery and take-away services. We are also making arrangements to ensure fresh produce, basic food items, manufactured items, and other items can be sent in and out of the containment area. We have managed this sort of cross-border exchange before, and the Police have been instructed to be quick about these approvals so that these goods can flow as freely as possible.
As we learned one year ago, these measures work, and staying at home saves lives. It’s the best and easiest way to protect yourself and your family from getting this deadly virus, and it’s the best way to help Fiji become COVID-contained once again. We expect these measures to be maintained for at least the next 14 days. Stay disciplined, and we will get through this. We know what is required of us, we have done this before. Most importantly, we know that it works. The new measures don’t end at the borders of the containment area. Nationwide, schools, including private schools, will be closed from tomorrow through at least the end of the term. School boarders will return to where they reside. If they are in the containment area and need to return home outside of the area, they will be allowed to leave in a highly controlled manner.
For the rest of Fiji, the following restrictions will take effect for at least the next 14 days to allow people to go about their lives as safely as possible:
Unfortunately, that does mean major events on the calendar over the next 14 days, including the Cocacola games, university graduations and rugby matches, will have to be cancelled. For those outside of Nadi and Lautoka, you have 24 hours to enter the containment area if you need to. But you will not be allowed to leave for at least the next 14 days. Those living outside of the containment area who are unable to attend work in the containment area will be allowed to access 220 dollars a fortnight from their FNPF. If funds are insufficient, government will top up their accounts.
We will also approve individuals to travel through the containment area for flights out of Nadi. Aside from some cancellations today, repatriation flights will continue at Nadi International Airport. Though we will be capping visitor arrivals to ensure we have adequate quarantine space available to support our robust contact tracing effort. To ensure we have adequate space in quarantine facilities, those currently in their quarantine periods will be securely ferried out of the containment area to where they reside once they finish their 14 days of quarantine and clear a negative COVID test result.
This situation is rapidly evolving, and –– like we always have – – your government will keep you updated every step of the way. My fellow Fijians, I know that this is a scary and difficult time for you, for your families, and for the country. It feels much like that chilling moment, just over one year ago, when we learned the first case of COVID-19 had entered the country. Back then, what was most frightening about having this pandemic here at home wasn’t what we knew about it –– it was what we didn’t know. Today, we face that same enemy, but we are armed with experience. Our contact tracing team is tried and tested, our isolation units have proven successful at containing the virus, and our frontline workers know their task, and know it well. But today, we also may be facing a new, more contagious, and deadlier variant of COVID. We’re seeing variants pop up around the globe, from the UK to the US to Brazil, India, and South Africa –– variants are resulting in new surges, even in places that are highly vaccinated. We must, at all costs, be vigilant. We cannot let the past year of freedom from the virus lure us into a false sense of safety. Because the truth is, the success Fiji has enjoyed 365 days of COVID-containment has made all of us far too comfortable with the pandemic that continued to rage beyond our shores.
Social distancing has been ignored, masks have gathered dust tucked away in drawers, and businesses went back to operating as usual. The healthy habits that we learned 12 months ago were all but forgotten. But over the course of the past year, the science has become even more clear that mask-wearing and psychical distancing is absolutely essential to stop the virus from spreading. So now, more than ever, we need every woman, man, and child, and every business of every size, to go back to following that proven rule book. That’s why we are enforcing the same, strict containment measures that have proven successful in the past, and it’s why our contact tracing team is working overtime to identify and isolate every known contact of this latest case. But we can’t win this battle without you. You all play a pivotal part in our containment efforts. We need every Fijian to do their part to contain this virus, and each and every one of you can help us again defeat this disease.
I hope we all remember the screening clinics we relied on last year to screen for cases of the virus. We are re-activating that network of screening clinics across the country to keep those with COVID-like symptoms away from vulnerable people who visit Health Centres and into separate, dedicated spaces specially designed to effectively identify possible COVID-19 cases. If you have a fever, or any symptoms, like a dry cough or a loss of taste, visit one of these clinics immediately.
I advise Fijians in the containment area to wear masks –– it’s the one thing that may be most important in stopping the spread. Masks are absolutely proven to protect yourself and others from contracting COVID, so we need each of you to urgently pick up this habit. I know that, for the past year, we’ve had the luxury of not needing to put on masks every day, like billions of others have around the world. But today, that needs to change. And I can’t stress this enough: Everyone needs to download the CareFiji app on their phones if you can. Situations like this one are exactly why we created CareFiji, and its use now is more critical than ever before. As always, these measures will change with our situation. If we identify new cases, new restrictions will come into effect. The containment area may grow, or constrict to more targeted regions.
We will announce those changes through our official government sources, namely the Fijian Government Facebook page. If you do not read it there first, it is not government policy. Full-stop. I wanted to end today on a bit of good news –– I know we all need it. As of today, 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be arriving through the COVAX facility. It’s another reminder that even though we are apart from the rest of the world, we have never been alone through this crisis. The entire world is up against this challenge, and we can only overcome it together.The PS for Health and Medical Services will be announcing the details of our vaccine deployment soon.
In the meantime, stay alert of symptoms within yourself or your family –– early detection is absolutely essential to stop the spread. Call number 158 if you’re feeling at all unwell.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you, and God bless Fiji