Bula Vinaka, everyone. Happy Fiji-50 Day.

I would like to thank His Excellency the President for his message this morning. There’s no doubt we are enduring a moment of great challenge for our country. But history will indeed remember that even as Fijians endured great adversity, we marked Fiji’s 50th birthday with patriotism and with pride.

No virus, no once-in-a-century crisis could temper the love we share for our nation, our people, our home.

That pride carries on through this afternoon as we unveil this new Fiji 50 Jubilee Feature. This new monument is dedicated to Suva City, our capital through our independent history and long before, all the way back to 1882 when the seat of the then-colonial administration was moved here from Levuka.

We’re standing in the heart of those nearly 140 years of history, along Queen Elizabeth’s Drive, in the shadow of the Grand Pacific Hotel, across the way from Albert Park, Thurston Gardens, down the way from State House, and a stone’s throw from Parliament and the seat of Government.

I’m proud of what we have done in recent years to bring life back into this section of our capital, with upgrades and refurbishments which have restored Suva’s shine. I love that we have been able to preserve and use the architecture from its colonial past. I love that this city has grown and modernized, yet kept its character. And I love that today we have a chance to celebrate this city and its history. But today is not only about our past.

Suva’s rise to the South Pacific’s premier city has been spectacular. But we must keep rising. We must keep building. Suva must continue becoming a better home for its citizens, a hub of finance, technology, and telecommunications for the region, and a destination for visitors from all around the world.

That is why I am glad to see today also marks the launch of new ambition, as I’m told this new monument will become one of many throughout a new Suva heritage walk which will tell this city’s story. I think even some of our most bona-fide Suva residents would be surprised by the significance of what surrounds us every day – and everyone should have the chance to know and experience that history for themselves.

This monument also pays tribute to the present. It is an everlasting salute to the Fijians whose sleepless efforts and sacrifice have spared our people from the worst of COVID-19. I’m speaking of the Doctors, the Nurses, the Lab Technicians, and the Members of our Disciplined Forces safeguarding our shores. Because of them we gather today not only in good spirits, but in good health.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging overseas, that good health is our greatest blessing, for the coronavirus is contained in Fiji. We are safe –– at home in the safest place in the world. The lives of our most vulnerable are not at risk. With global infections from the coronavirus nearing 37 million and over one million deaths recorded, Fijian hearts break for our friends around the world who continue to contend with this sinister plague.

With the horrors of the measles outbreak in 1875 and the 1918 influenza epidemic scarred into our national consciousness, we knew we could not let COVID-19 decimate our people. Fiji acted with urgency and in line with the science to protect our people. We shut our borders quickly. We tested fast, often and early.

We ran the most exhaustive contact tracing effort in the world, identifying every known contact of every confirmed case. That strategy has worked –– but it has demanded extraordinary sacrifices from our healthcare staff and border control authorities on the frontlines of our containment campaign.

Even as I speak with you now, Fijian doctors and nurses are hard at work in our hospitals, working 14-day full-time shifts in isolation wards to eliminate any risk of infection among the public. After which they will spend another 14 days in quarantine before they are able to see their families.

I’m happy to report that one of our nurses who contracted the virus while working in an isolation facility to save the life of a fellow Fijian has made a full recovery and has since returned home.
All the while, our Disciplined Forces have guarded our border, standing between our people and contagion.

In their honour, this monument carries the following inscription:

“Dedicated to all frontline border control and healthcare workers who worked tirelessly to protect their fellow Fijians during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

These Fijians are the heroes our nation needed to weather this difficult year. Every time we lace up our boots for a game of rugby, every time we pray in our houses or worship, every time we gather with friends or hug a loved one, every time we enjoy freedoms that so many around the world do not have, we owe them our thanks.

And when future generations 10, 20, even 50 years on from today read the words etched onto this monument, they will know the great lengths that Fijians went for each other. They will be inspired to do the same.

Before we unveil this monument, I want to acknowledge the many young Fijians who took part in our national Fiji-50 second challenge. The prompt was simple, tell us in 50 seconds or less, “What Makes Fiji Special?”

We had over 500 submissions, and we are grateful to every student who shared with us why they feel special to be Fijian. I’m proud today to announce our national winners.

In the video competition our winners are Cel Beatrix Ecube and Kavish Chandra from Labasa College, Tanesha and Ilimalei from the Valebasoga Public School, Rithrik and Ilisapeci from the Lami Narayan Kindergarten, and Viraj Vijendra Khelawan from the Qawa Primary School.

And in the arts competition our winners are Jacquelyn Masilomani and Matilda Basil from St Joseph’s Secondary School, Taisala from Swami Vivekanda College, Emali Mateni and Ivamere Draunitivi from the Vunimoli Islamic School, and Peter Muriwale from the Qalivakabau Kindergarten.

Congratulations to our winners, and Happy Fiji-50 Day.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.

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