Fiji escalates measures to contain spread of Covid-19

Venkat Raman
Auckland, April 22, 2021

Health Ministry Permanent Secretary James Fong

The Fijian government has gone into stringent lockdown mode after three cases of Covid-19 were found within the community.

Permanent Secretary to the Health Ministry James Fong told a media conference today that while the lockdown was in place, all international flights would be suspended from midnight.

“Fijians in need of urgent medical attention and other passengers as approved by our Office may be able to travel overseas with specific permission,” he said.

‘High Risk’ businesses closed

He said that all businesses classified as ‘high risk’ have been closed throughout Viti Levu, including Nadi and Lautoka Containment Area.

“Gyms, movie theatres, video gaming shops, cyber cafes, taverns, bars, billiard shops and amusement arcades, as well as hairdressers, barber shops, spas, beauty therapy, massage therapy venues, saunas and tattoo parlours have been shut down. The nature of these businesses means that they cannot operate with proper Covid-19 safe protocols, including enforced physical distancing of two meters. They should all close everywhere on Viti Levu for at least the next 14 days,” he said.

Mr Fong said that all residents must wear face masks while in public for essential purchases, while travelling in public transport and while visiting medical centres and other approved purposes. We urge everyone to download the CareFiji App on their smartphone and use it at all places of visit,” he said.

How the latest spread occurred

The grim news of community transmission came as Fiji was getting ready to celebrate one year of freedom from Covid-19.

He said that the first case was of a 40-year old man announced yesterday (Wednesday), a resident of the densely populated Wainitarawau Cunningham.

The case became serious when it was known that the person had attended a funeral at which about 200 others had gathered.

“We can now confirm that two children, a 14-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old son of the patient have also been tested positive. The entire family is now in the Navua Hospital Isolation Ward. We are confident that they are latent cases, which means they were entered into isolation before they became infectious. So, while the 14-year-old attended school on Monday, April 19, 2021, we believe that there is little chance that she passed the virus to others. However, out of an abundance of caution, we will be running a screening exercise based on the girl’s movements,” he said.

No stigma please

Mr Fong warned against stigmatisation of people afflicted by Covid-19. 

“Such attitude has very real consequences. When bullies take advantage of other people’s suffering, Fijians may be scared into hiding their travel history or hiding their symptoms. That culture of stigmatisation can put the entire nation at-risk. So, please join me in thanking this family, the drivers, and all those who have come forward as potentially having been exposed to the virus. Anyone exposed to Covid-19 should call 158 and stay home until our teams can contact them. Do it for yourself, do it your family, and do it for Fiji,” he said.

Mr Fong that samples of the people who attended the funeral have been collected. Although no one has been confirmed positive yet, the window of transmission is still open, he said. 

“Nasomo in Tavua has also been identified as a screening zone based on the movements of the case from Wainitarawau Cunningham after the funeral. The same rules established for the Wainitarawau Settlement apply here: No one is allowed to leave. Those who reside in the community may return, but they must stay there for at least the next 14 days,” he said. 

He said that officials were looking for the driver of a minibus who transported the staff of the hotel in connection with the funeral at 5 pm on April 17, 2021 from the Lautoka City Minivan Stand to Nadi and other people.

Six Border cases

Mr Fong said that six new border quarantine cases have been identified.

“One is a 38-year-old man who arrived from Malaysia on April 8, 2021. The other five are members of a family who arrived on the same day from the Philippines, two other members of the same travelling family had tested positive during entry testing. All these people tested positive at the end of their quarantine period,” he said.

Mr Fong said that as of date there were now 19 active Covid-19 cases in Fiji, the highest ever registered in the country. Of these, 14 cases were at the border and the remaining locally-transmitted. The testing laboratory  is operating round-the-clock, he said.

Share facts, not rumours

He requested the media to report facts and not rumours and conjectures.

“Last year, the media, for the most part, were our ally in our Covid-Containment Strategy. We saw facts-based reporting that helped Fijians get good information, and that was a reason why we succeeded in containing the spread. But we have seen a troubling shift towards sensationalism from some outlets. We have seen reporters stalking our health officials, following them into high-risk areas, and rushing to publish half-baked stories with zero context from official sources,” he said. 

Mr Fong said that a shipment of 26,000 doses of Covid-19 AstraZeneca Vaccine is in the country and that the government has amended its deployment schedule because of current restrictions.

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