STATEMENT FROM THE FIJIAN GOVERNMENT – FRIDAY, 17 APRIL 2020

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has announced a cabinet reshuffle effective from this evening.
 
The Prime Minister will add the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his existing portfolios.
 
The Honourable Inia Seruiratu will now serve as the Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and the Minister for Disaster Management. He will continue to lead the Ministry of Defence and National Security, which has now been re-named to the Ministry of Defence, National Security and Policing.
 
The Honourable Jone Usamate will continue to serve as the Minister for Infrastructure and Meteorological Services and will now also serve as the Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources.
 
The Honourable Faiyaz Koya will be the Minister for Commerce, Trade and Tourism, formerly known as the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism. He will also serve as the Minister for Transport.
 
The Honourable Premila Kumar will continue to serve as the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Housing and Community Development.
 
The Honourable Dr Mahendra Reddy will continue to serve as the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Waterways and Environment.
 
Honourable Vijay Nath and Honourable Jale Sigarara will serve as the assistant ministers for Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management.
 
Honourable Viam Pillay will serve as the Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment.

Statement by the Hon. Prime Minister J.V. Bainimarama on COVID 19, Thursday 16 April 2020

Bula Vinaka. 
 
I want to start the briefing today with the latest on our response to the devastation of Cyclone Harold. After being thoroughly health screened, our disaster officials have arrived with food, shelter kits, and medical supplies to Vatulele, Kadavu, Beqa, Yanuca and Southern Lau, we’ve shipped water to areas that need it as well. Deployments to the Yasawa and Mamanuca groups will depart this evening. Our evacuees are gradually returning home, but those who need to stay will continue to be fed and looked after. The Director NDMO is here with me to take any questions relating to our Cyclone Harold response.
 
We remain in a state of natural disaster from Cyclone Harold. Today, we are declaring another state of natural disaster in response to the coronavirus threat, because it is clear we need to bring every resource in government to bear to take on the crises of contagion and climate change before us. 
Our coronavirus containment remains focused on our three high-risk locales: The Nabua settlement in Suva, the quarantine facilities in Nadi, and the Soasoa settlement and other areas in the North. 
 
Our first 16 patients living with coronavirus are all in stable condition. Yesterday, after testing ten samples we recorded no new positive cases of coronavirus. Today, however, one of our 25 tested samples returned positive –– that of a 21-year-old man in Vanua Levu. This gentleman is a relative and travelling companion of case nine; they travelled together from India to Singapore and on to Fiji.
 
Since his return to Fiji, this young man has not shown a single symptom of the virus. You will recall our original case definition for virus testing required that patients display symptoms. Upon returning to the country from overseas, this young man was in self-quarantine for two full weeks, up until the 5th of April. Free of any symptoms throughout the virus’s known two-week incubation period, by all appearances, he was in the clear.
 
But as experts have unveiled more about the insidious nature of this virus, and our understanding of the disease has evolved, the way we define and contain cases must evolve as well. From this week, we’ve widened our testing to all close contacts of all our confirmed cases, regardless of whether they are displaying symptoms. That’s how we identified, tested and confirmed this gentleman as our 17th case. He was immediately entered into isolation upon testing positive today where he is in stable condition. His close contacts have been entered into separate isolation facilities. 
 
This all goes to show that the knowns of this virus pale in comparison to the unknowns. What we do know is this: physical distancing is the only strategy that stops this virus. The disease cannot move if its carrier doesn’t –– so while there is no medical cure, time and distance are two sure-fire ways to put a stop to its transmission.
 
But as we have seen, the time that is needed to ensure it cannot be spread can be far longer than the world first thought. And it’s why we are now extending the quarantine period to a full 28 days, both for anyone who is newly-quarantined and to those who currently are waiting out their initial 14-day period. So, for example, if you are on day seven of your quarantine, you will remain in quarantine for 21 more days. Anyone whose quarantine has ended will not go back into quarantine, but they will continue to be monitored by the Ministry of Health until they meet the full 28-day threshold. 
 
Our contact tracing stemming from this latest case has revealed the need for additional lockdowns on Vanua Levu. The Vunicagi Settlement between Nabowalu and Labasa will be locked down for the next 28 days. The settlement lies along a short stretch of vital highway which vehicles will still be allowed to traverse under 24/7 police monitoring, as no alternate routes into Labasa exist. However, no passengers will be allowed to disembark or embark: No one in and no one out. 
 
Our lockdown of the Soasoa settlement as well will be extended another 14 days, in line with our 28-day quarantine policy. Given the continued risk of transmission on Vanua Levu, our ban on inter-island travel by air and sea will remain in effect. 
 
Meanwhile, there is good news to report in Suva. Around 180,000 Fijians in the Suva confined have been screened by our mobile teams and at our fever clinics –– well beyond our target of 150,000, and an impressive two-thirds of the total population of our largest urban hub. Today, that total will likely surpass 230,000, meaning that when combined with previous screenings in Lautoka, over 280,000 Fijians have been screened. 
 
This represents the most ambitious public health screening campaign in Fijian history. That success is shared by our healthcare heroes, our disciplined forces and the thousands of Fijians who stepped up and got themselves screened. We’ve also successfully identified and quarantined all of the close contacts of our Suva COVID-19 cases –– these Fijians will remain in quarantine for 28 days. 
 
We know the triumph of a single battle doesn’t assure our victory against this virus. We know we’re still in for long and difficult months ahead. But winning these small battles day after day after day is what will win us the war. We’ll need to see similar successes replicated many times over in the months to come as we expand large-scale screening to Nadi, Ba, Tavua, Rakiraki, Labasa, Savusavu, Sigatoka and Korovou.
 
The progress of our screening and contact tracing has kept us on track to lift the lockdown of the Suva confined area by 5am tomorrow. The Nabua settlement however –– the site of two of our coronavirus cases –– is still a high-risk region. Given how long this virus has proven it can stay dormant, the Nabua settlement  will remain locked down for an additional 14 days. 
 
I want to be crystal clear with everyone watching: Even though the Suva lockdown is lifting, every other life-saving directive in place will remain in place. The nationwide curfew remains in effect. Nightclubs stay closed. Gyms stay closed. Cinemas stay closed. Pools stay closed. Public gatherings are not permitted. Physical distancing of two metres from all others should be maintained at all times. The end of the lockdown is not cause for celebration. It is not a reason to have large grog sessions or drinking parties. It is not a justification to stay out past 8pm. It is not an excuse to leave your homes for no good reason. 
 
In the West, Fijians who have returned from overseas remain under closely supervised quarantine. One flight is arriving tomorrow from Auckland –– every passenger aboard will head straight to one of these facilities. As I said earlier, the period of quarantine is now 28 days. If you’ve already been released from quarantine after returning from overseas, prepare for a visit from health officials. 
 
Schools were scheduled to open next week Monday. Instead, schools will not open until the 15th of June, an extension that recognises that this virus will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and we must plan accordingly. The date schools reopen is subject to change based on the situation on the ground at the time. The Minister for Education joins me today to talk about how her ministry will continue to ensure that learning materials are distributed for at-home schooling, technology will be impactfully utilised, teachers and parents will be engaged and how students can utilise this as an opportunity for upskilling and professional development.  
 
So, even though the Suva lockdown will be lifted tomorrow morning at 5am, I want today’s main takeaway to be that every other health protection measure remains in effect and will be enforced. Every would-be law-breaker can bet that they will be arrested and they will be charged if they flout any of these measures. 
 
The coronavirus is the most complex and devastating global crisis of our lifetimes. We should all respect how vital our health protection measures are to the wellbeing of every Fijian. We need every Fijian behind them. Because as we’ve seen from the beginning, we are stronger together. And only together can the war against this virus be won. 
 
Thank you. God bless you all, and God bless Fiji.

Statement by the Hon. Prime Minister J.V. Bainimarama on COVID-19, Friday, 10 April 2020

Bula Vinaka. I wish every Fijian a very Happy Easter! 
 
Any other year my wife, children and grandchildren would be joining thousands of other Fijians families at church services, planning parties and spending intimate time with friends and loved ones –– but we all know this isn’t any other year. 
 
With the coronavirus still at our shores and Cyclone Harold’s recent devastation –– the need for solidarity with our healthcare heroes, utility workers and disciplined forces has never been greater. So, this long weekend, let us all honour the sacrifices they bravely make every day, by staying home, keeping our children home and keeping the elderly at home. 
 
Through this week we went to incredible lengths to ensure that we did not lose an inch of ground in our war against coronavirus due to Cyclone Harold. Because unlike the cyclone, the virus won’t disappear in a day. Our coronavirus containment measures –– which depend heavily on testing, tracing, and isolating new cases –– are all in full-swing. 
 
After testing another 32 samples, today, we received confirmation of another COVID-positive case that we had been anticipating: the 9-year-old granddaughter of the gentleman in Labasa who traveled from India.
 
This young girl lived in the Soasoa settlement. She has been in isolation since the 4th of April. While she wasn’t showing any symptoms, we knew she had a high risk of being infected given her close contact with her grandfather. We had her tested and she was confirmed positive late this morning. 
 
This diagnosis takes Fiji’s case total to 16. But given the length of time this young girl spent in isolation, and the fact that she wasn’t showing symptoms, her risk of infecting others is extremely low. 
 
This is the sixth confirmed case stemming from the gentleman in Labasa –– and it once again goes to show how long and dangerous a chain of transmission can grow if our public health directives are blatantly ignored. 
 
So as Fijians gather with your own families this holiday weekend, I want each of you to take a moment to appreciate how much it means to have them in your life –– and how much we sometimes take that for granted. Pledge to protect them by changing your own behaviour in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
 
Ask yourself: If I could prevent my grandparent from suffering a stroke by washing my hands, would I? If I could prevent my child from contracting cancer by staying home, would I? If I could stave off heart disease in my spouse by physically distancing, would I? The answer is obvious. Treat coronavirus no differently –– it is just as serious as any other killer, but unlike some other diseases, the power to fight it is in your own hands. 
 
So please, going forward, treat COVID-19 with the seriousness it deserves. Protect your family, do what the authorities tell you to do –– help us break every chain of transmission in Fiji. 
 
Thank you. 

Statement by Hon. Prime Minister Bainimarama on New COVID-19 Cases in Fiji, Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Bula vinaka. 
 
This morning, after testing another 25 samples overnight at our molecular lab, we have confirmed a single new case of COVID-19 in Fiji. 
 
Our newly-confirmed case of coronavirus is the husband of an existing patient from Lautoka –– the Zumba classmate of patient number one. This was a case we have expected for some time and, thankfully, this 33-year-old gentleman did not develop any symptoms until after he was safely in isolation and posed no risk to the public. This is the sixth confirmed transmission that can be traced back to our first case.
 
There are now 15 cases of COVID-19 in Fiji. All of our patients remain in stable condition. 
 
You’ll recall the Fijian national who our fever-screening team discovered had travelled from Uruguay and smuggled his way into Lautoka. His travel history, paired with a fever and other symptoms, raised serious red flags, and jeopardised the lifting of restrictions in some areas of Lautoka –– for those reasons we locked down the Kashmir area in Lautoka where he resided. 
 
Despite his irresponsible behavior, which will still be investigated, he was among the 24 tests last night that came back negative –– meaning all of the Lautoka confined area now has the freedom to move into and out of the area, including the Kashmir area. 
 
But the lifting of the lockdown does not mean life is going back to normal; it’s not cause for celebration or an excuse to play loose with the rules. The 8pm to 5am nationwide curfew applies everywhere. The ban on all social gatherings applies everywhere. The requirement to keep a safe distance of two metres applies everywhere. Our Police officers are stepping up surveillance in Lautoka from today to make sure no one takes this as an opportunity to skirt any of our directives. 
 
It was the people of Lautoka who helped make our latest fever-screening effort so effective, and it is those same people who we will depend on to continue to act responsibly and keep the area safe and healthy. So, if you see any rule-breaking, speak up. If you feel symptoms, visit a fever clinic or call 158. 
 
Given this virus struck Fiji in cyclone season, we knew from the start we had to weather-proof our COVID-19 containment efforts to the very real possibility of a severe storm striking Fiji. Thank God we have, as Cyclone Harold –– a category five cyclone currently rivaling the strength of TC Winston –– is currently wreaking havoc on our Pacific brothers and sisters in Vanuatu. Tomorrow, the cyclone will enter Fijian waters, and we can expect strong winds and heavy rains in the Yasawa and Mamanuca groups, Viti Levu, Kadavu, the Lomaiviti Group and the Southern Lau Group. 
 
If any areas under lockdown see serious flooding and need to be evacuated, we have contingency plans in place to prevent any mixing between evacuees and Fijians who are close contacts of existing COVID-positive patients –– so you should have no hesitation in evacuating as normal if flooding poses a risk. All evacuation centres will also be sanitised, and regularly monitored to ensure that they are not filled beyond capacity.
 
Through this storm, I want to again stress that the directives given by our authorities are not voluntary. They are not suggestions. They are orders that must be followed, for your safety and the safety of those around you.
 
Cyclones can kill, and so can coronavirus. So, as we combat these two life-threatening crises, it’s vital that every Fijian do exactly what they are told to do by authorities. Stay away from floodwaters. If you’ve been directed to evacuate, please do so while the sun is out. If you have notbeen told to move, do the right thing and stay put at home. 
 
Over the past few days, as news has emerged of those who have violated the rules meant to keep us safe, I’ve shared the anger and frustration of many Fijians. But I don’t want any of us to lose sight of the remarkable stories of solidarity that have emerged from this crisis. 
 
This past Saturday, our national carrier, Fiji Airways, organised a charter flight on board an A350 which safely carried 300 missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Nadi to Utah in the United States. Before departing for the U.S., Fiji Airways organised regional flights from across the Pacific to bring these missionaries to Nadi ahead of their trans-Pacific flight to Salt Lake City. 
 
On the flight from Kiribati to Nadi, 11 Fijians were able to fly back home to Fiji. To cut the weight of cargo and allow these 11 Fijians to make it aboard, 68 missionaries left their bags and possessions behind in Kiribati. Thanks to their sacrifice, these Fijians are all safely back in Fiji, where they’ll be reunited with their families after a mandatory two-week quarantine. 
 
That, my friends, is a profound demonstration of what it means to put humanity first and what it means to have love and compassion for your fellow human beings. Not only in words, but in action. Because while thisf virus can shut borders, keep us at home and even take lives, it cannot rob us of our humanity. It cannot diminish the love we hold for others, regardless of who they are, where they come from or the faith they follow. 
 
Vinaka to all who helped bring these 11 Fijians home. In the weeks and months to come, serious sacrifices may be demanded from all of us –– as long as we use compassion as our guiding principle, there is no challenge we –– the Fijian people –– cannot overcome. 
 
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you. God Bless Fiji.

Statement by Hon. Prime Minister J.V. Bainimarama on New COVID-19 Cases in Fiji, Monday, 6 April 2020

Bula Vinaka.

Yesterday, the Christian calendar marked Palm Sunday –– an occasion that many Fijians spent together with loved ones, surrounded by family in the quiet comfort of their homes.

But this Sunday, in the lockdown areas of Lautoka, Suva and Soasoa, hundreds of our Fiji Police officers and RFMF personnel spent the rainy weekend conducting COVID-19 protection operations –– ensuring that the Fijian people kept to our health protection directives. Their sense of patriotic duty, once again, showed us the power of the spirit of “vei lomani” –– that profound sense of love and devotion to the protection of our people. 
 
Our police officers had to make more than a few arrests over the weekend, but the number of arrests for curfew breaches on Sunday night fell to 21 from 110 the night prior. So, I want to give credit to the vast majority of Fijians who respected our rules and kept themselves and their loved ones at home. Let’s get that number down to zero.
 
You’ve heard me say this time and again: Stay at Home. Save Lives. I know it’s not always easy, but staying at home is the best way we beat this virus. It is also the best way all of us can honour the sacrifices of our officers and our healthcare heroes serving in on the frontlines of the war against coronavirus in our hospitals, fever clinics, contact tracing teams and isolation wards. Trust me, these Fijians wish they could be at home. Instead, they are putting their lives and wellbeing on the line to lock down this virus for good.

 Around the world, the virus shows few signs of abating. Confirmed cases have surged past 1.2 million. More families are being robbed of loved ones every day as the global death count approaches 70,000. And hard-working people are watching their jobs and businesses disappear as the world economy suffers the most severe recession of our lifetimes.

Yesterday, after a second round of confirmation testing, Fiji confirmed that our 12th case of COVID-19 was, in fact, the daughter-in-law of case number nine –– the gentleman in Labasa who returned from India on the 22nd of March. And, this morning, we have confirmed an additional two cases of the virus in Fiji.

The first new case is the wife of the gentleman from Labasa. She was taken into isolation two days before being diagnosed positive this morning.

The second new case is the sister of Fiji’s very first case, the flight attendant from Lautoka. This was a case we have long been expecting. She is the young mother of an existing case –– the COVID-positive one-year old baby boy –– and she chose to stay in isolation with her child to continue to breastfeed and care for him. She has been in isolation since the 19th of March, when our first case tested positive.

Both cases are close contacts of previous patients, and both were already in isolation when their symptoms developed and they tested positive. So, luckily, the risk of further transmission is very low.

Yesterday, our fever testing team screened the temperatures of nearly 10,000 Fijians in the Lautoka confined area –– several of whom were running a fever, which in itself isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. But upon further investigation, we discovered that one of these fevers belonged to a man who was not only displaying other symptoms, but also had a recent travel history –– a history he was hiding from officials. 

He arrived in Fiji on the 24th of March from Uruguay, transiting through Singapore. Now, you might be wondering how this gentleman arrived in Lautoka when the lockdown came into effect on the 19th of March. After further questioning, we discovered that he had in fact smuggled his way into the confined area. Once inside, it appears he remained within a set area in Lautoka. Now that he’s showing symptoms, our contact tracing teams are determining how many Fijians he may have put at-risk. 

We’ll learn the results of his COVID-19 test tomorrow morning. In the meantime, our contact tracing team has determined the area in which this gentleman stayed. So, we plan to lift the lockdown of the broader Lautoka confined area tomorrow at 0500 hours. But, we will also be announcing a new confined area within Lautoka based on this gentleman’s movements.  These details will be announced tomorrow.

It’s the bad news that usually makes headlines –– but let’s not forget: Most people in the Lautoka confined area actually have been doing the right thing. We’re grateful to these Fijians inside and outside the checkpoints who have been riding out –– what I know –– has been a difficult 18 days. Your patience and your diligence has helped us effectively trace and isolate cases –– so by staying inside and playing by the rules, you have saved lives. 

This morning, Tropical Cyclone Harold intensified into a category five cyclone, with Vanuatu in its immediate path, with parts of Fiji also at risk. 

Fiji can expect heavy rains and flooding from Cyclone Harold from tomorrow –– meaning floodwaters and road closures will likely add a new layer of complexity to our containment efforts.

Meanwhile, we cannot allow severe weather to jeopardise our life-saving game plan to lock this virus down. We are preparing to face two crises at once –– the only way we beat both is if every Fijian adheres closely to the directives from authorities. Our disciplined forces will be giving orders, not advice –– and they won’t tolerate disobedience. So, do what you’re told to do. Your life and the lives of those you love depend on it.

I’ve said that our essential healthcare workers are heroes for their role in dealing with COVID-19. When I tell you to follow every directive we give, I’m saying it for them. They have enough to worry about already, without those who are breaking quarantine, violating curfew or otherwise acting recklessly. Stop making their lives difficult, when they’re working so hard to save yours. Listen to what we are telling you, and do the right thing. Do it for the doctors, do it for the nurses, do it for the police officers and disciplined forces. Do it for your livelihoods, do it for your businesses, and do it for your freedom of movement. 

Do it for Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. God Bless Fiji. 

Statement by Hon. Prime Minister Bainimarama On New COVID-19 Cases in Fiji, Saturday, 4 April 2020

Bula Vinaka. 

Last week, we issued a nationwide directive to all people in Fiji to stay at home unless your life or livelihood depends directly on going outside. Again, my most important message to all Fijians this afternoon again is this: 
 
Stay at home, save lives. 
 
Tiko i vale me da bula kece kina. 
 
Ghare raho, jaan bachao
 
So, with very few exceptions, I expect that everyone watching this Saturday afternoon is doing so from home and doing their part to keep them and those they love from harm.  
  
On Thursday, I told you we had a strong suspicion of how the sixth and seventh cases of COVID-19 in Fiji contracted the virus. The father of the gentleman –– case number seven –– stayed with the couple for several days after returning from India on the 22nd of March. 
 
It turns out –– as we suspected –– the father-in-law has indeed tested positive for the virus. He likely became infected at a large religious gathering he attended while overseas in India. Upon returning to Fiji, he spent five days in the Nabua Settlement, and he then made his way by boat to Vanua Levu. He then travelled to his home in Soasoa. He is currently in stable condition in our isolation ward at Labasa Hospital.
 
This patient did not declare any symptoms when returning from travel, and did not follow the directive of entering into government-mandated home quarantine –– a compulsory requirement for all those returning to the country from abroad that came into effect on the 19th of March. Three days after the directive came into effect, this individual proceeded to ignore it by hopping from Nadi to Suva to Labasa in the span of a week, potentially spreading COVID-19 via land, air, and sea over just a few days. So once again, quite sadly, we have seen the spread of COVID-19 in Fiji due to a disregard for the rules we’ve put in place to keep people safe.
 
Our contact tracing teams are in the process of identifying all other individuals who came into contact with this gentleman –– including a few in Suva who he spoke with at car garages, and fellow passengers on the ferry from Nabouwalu Jetty to Vanua Levu on the 27th of March. 
  
Following his arrival in Soasoa, this gentleman, his daughter-in-law, and his grandson were all taken into isolation and tested. We tested all three –– and two of them, including the father–– tested positive. We are currently doing a second-round test on the daughter-in-law and grandson to confirm their results. In the meantime, all three family members remain in isolation at Labasa Hospital where they are in stable condition. 
 
After identifying the couple who tested positive for the virus in the Nabua Settlement, we had also entered their 11-year-old daughter into isolation before she had developed symptoms. Yesterday, she came down with a fever. She was tested and confirmed as positive for the virus this morning. 
  
In the Lautoka confined area, the 39-year-old sister of case number five –– the woman from our first patient’s Zumba class –– developed symptoms after she was already placed in quarantine within Natabua School. She alerted the Ministry of Health and was tested. She was confirmed as positive for the virus this morning, and she has since been isolated at Lautoka Hospital where she remains in stable condition. 
   
We also have a new case in Nadi which is unrelated to any of our other patients. This has many similarities to our first case in Nadera, Suva, the gentleman who immediately entered self-quarantine upon arriving back from abroad –– a responsible move that has, so far, resulted in no additional cases. This new case in Nadi is a 20-year-old woman who also entered self-quarantine immediately after returning to Fiji from Auckland, New Zealand. 
 
We’re all grateful this young woman displayed the same diligence and compassion as that young man from Nadera as she placed herself into quarantine, and stayed there. She was brought food that was dropped off at her door, and she refrained from coming into contact with others. Her good habits have spared Nadi from a total lockdown.
 
All Fijians living with COVID-19 are in stable condition. 
  
That means in total, we’ve confirmed five new cases of the coronavirus overnight. This is our single largest jump in cases in a day. Week over week, our new case numbers have doubled. 
 
As we’ve seen around the world, the virus doesn’t gradually add a few new cases day by day. It may start that way, but then, the spike in case numbers can hit hard and fast. Unmanaged, the virus can spread at an exponential rate, case numbers double and double and double, claiming lives along the way. If you see the graphs of how the virus exploded in China, Italy and the United States, it looks like a spaceship taking flight. Globally, there are over one million cases and over 50,000 deaths. In the USA, it was just reported that doctors are now ranking patients due to lack of resources. Basically, they are having to choose who to treat: who gets a life-saving ventilator and who doesn’t. On the other hand, if you see a graph of case numbers in South Korea –– where people acted quickly, adhered to strong government directives, and practiced good physical distancing –– the curve looks very different. It flattens, dramatically, and the outbreak shows positive signs of relenting.
 
Those same tactics can work in Fiji, but only if people do the right thing and follow government directives. Our first patient in Suva –– for example –– did what the rules demanded and dramatically limited his exposure to others. So far, it appears he did not pass the virus to anyone. He showed responsibility. He stood in solidarity with this nation. And he won Fiji a small victory in the war against this virus.
 
His example makes clear: The virus does not travel unless people travel. We have to stop people from touching, hugging, or doing anything that puts them in close contact with each other. That is why we locked down Lautoka. That is why we locked down Suva. That is why social gatherings are banned. That is why the nightclubs, gyms and swimming pools are closed. That is why the nationwide curfew came into effect. That is why passenger travel by air and sea has ceased. 
 
That is also why we are going to lock down a 240-square-metre portion of  Soasoa area on Vanua Levu –– where the contact tracing for the first case in the North is underway. The surrounding homes, and neighbours he came into contact with, will be under this contained area. If it’s determined that the spread has risked going beyond these boundaries, we will expand them accordingly. 
But rules only work when they are obeyed. 

No one is immune to COVID-19. Anyone can be infected. Anyone can be a carrier. If anyone disregards the rules and acts as if –– somehow –– they are beyond this reach of this virus, they’ll cost us Fijian lives.   

Last night, the Police arrested another 123 individuals for violating curfew –– up from 60 the day before. The hours of the curfew are 8pm to 5am, every night. Do whatever you need to do to remember that fact. If you need to go to work, you can travel. If you have a medical emergency, you can travel. Otherwise, don’t be the next person who doesn’t have a damn good reason to be outside when questioned by our police officers. 

We also had two rugby players returning from overseas who broke compulsory quarantine after coming back to Fiji. Like every other person disembarking from international flights, they were required to self-quarantine for 14 days. But they violated the directives, and put their loved ones –– and all of Fiji –– at risk. 

One of them was coming in from Singapore and had a high-risk of exposure to the virus while overseas. After reports he was breaking quarantine, he was actually brought into the hospital in Sigatoka –– and then he bolted and disappeared, forcing our police officers to track him down. Unlucky for him, he couldn’t step his way past our Fiji Police Force. He’s been arrested, and he is now securely in isolation at Nadi Hospital. 

Last night, in violation of curfew and our rules against inter-island passenger travel, we received another report of a mother who took her family on a fibreglass boat and shipped herself to Wakaya Island. The police are investigating this alleged breach as well.

This level of lawlessness is irresponsible, un-Fijian and just plain stupid. We are at war with the most devastating global pandemic in 100 years and any disobedience in our ranks will cost us lives. We don’t care who you are, rules are rules. Break them, and you will be found and punished. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, it doesn’t matter how rich you are, it doesn’t even matter how religious you feel you are, no one has the magic cure to coronavirus, and no one is immune to our laws. 

As always, these few bad examples hang a dark shadow over much of the good work being done all throughout the country. A few irresponsible actors shouldn’t take away from the many more who are following the rules, or the long hours being put in by our frontline workers who are combatting COVID-19.

In Lautoka, for example, thanks to the ongoing efforts by our medical teams on the ground, over 30,000 Fijians have been screened for fevers through temperature checks and in-person outreach. I thank the people of the Lautoka confined area for stepping up. In my eyes, every Fijian who gets themselves screened on the streets or tested at a fever clinic is a true patriot.  

And I especially thank our nurses and doctors who are out there treating and testing every new patient, sacrificing time with their own families to ensure that those who are blessed with good health are able to spend more time with their own. As I said on a video posted to my Facebook page yesterday, these healthcare heroes are embodying “vei lomani” –– love and care for their community –– and all Fijians owe them a debt of gratitude. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your service and sacrifice. 

So from our healthcare workers to our firefighters, from our disciplined forces to our containment and tracing team, our nation is coming together to battle coronavirus. But, come next week, if we don’t see our fever testing numbers go dramatically up, and we don’t see the numbers of our curfew and quarantine violations go dramatically down, we will initiate a nationwide 24-hour curfew. So if you’re feeling flu-like symptoms visit a fever clinic or call 158. If you’re not going to work, buying food, getting money or accessing an essential service, stay at home. Otherwise, we will bring in the military and police to lock down all of Fiji –– it’s that simple. 

But even if we do that. Even if we throw every dollar we have into this effort. Even if we direct every police officer in the country to force our people to stay in their homes, the government cannot win this war alone.  We need you –– every person watching or listening, and every person in your lives –– to take responsibility for our nationwide response. 

Children don’t leave the house. The elderly don’t leave the house. Every time anyone sees a sink, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. And keep a safe distance between yourself and all other people. If you need to go somewhere, do not bring your family with you, go alone. And wherever you go and whatever you do, keep a safe distance of two metres’ from all others. Remember: We must all stand together in solidarity to defeat this virus –– just not too close. 

I’m joined today by our Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Jemesa Tudravu, our Minister for Health, Commissioner of Police, and Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, who will be going into detail about some of these cases, the steps Fijians need to take contain the spread COVID-19, how those affected by our economic slowdown can claim their FNPF relief and how some new businesses will be permitted to operate in a safe and hygienic manner. 

I’ll first hand things over to Dr. Tudravu.

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you, and God bless Fiji. 

Statement by Hon. Prime Minister J.V. Bainimarama on New COVID-19 Cases in Fiji, Thursday, 2 April 2020

Bula Vinaka, members of the media. 
 
As you may have noticed, we have a new mic set-up for reporters to use so that everyone watching can hear your questions. You’ll also see we’ve strictly designated where members of the media can stand in the interest of putting physical distancing into practice. So, keep your distance back there. Seriously. 
 
This is the latest on Fiji’s war against coronavirus. As of today the 2nd of April, the first five COVID-19 patients remain in stable condition. None have been cleared as recovered. 
 
This morning, we confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 in Fiji. Our sixth case is a 21-year-old woman and our seventh case is her 33-year-old husband. Again, our medical teams were well-prepared to get to these patients quickly, test them and move them securely and hygienically into isolation. 

The two individuals are a couple living together in the Nabua Settlement in Suva. The sixth patient –– the 21-year-old wife –– developed symptoms on Saturday, the 28th of March. She informed the Ministry of Health on the 1st of April. Our teams visited her home, and tested her that same day. Her partner, the 33-year-old husband reported symptoms on the 31st of March. He was tested the same day as his wife. 
 

It’s important to note that the symptoms of these two newest cases started with just a runny nose when they called the Ministry of Health for testing. I can’t stress enough –– if you have any symptoms at all, even something as minor as a runny nose, immediately dial 158, our new, 24-hour toll-free coronavirus helpline. 
 
Both patients have been transported securely and hygienically in an ambulance to the Navua Hospital Isolation Ward where both are in stable condition. The couple shared a home with their daughter; she has been taken into isolation as well. 
 
Our contact tracing teams are now identifying all of their close contacts and directing them into self-quarantine. 
 
My fellow Fijians, it appears that our newest two cases are unrelated to our first five cases. We’re actively identifying all of these individuals’ close contacts. We’ve identified a contact who lived at home with these two patients after returning from India as the likeliest transmitter of the virus. This person has been placed into isolation in Labasa Hospital, but we cannot comment further until testing confirms this person as the source. 
 
Some of these two patients’ personal details were –– unfortunately –– leaked to the public. I’ve just come from the Ministry of Health, I can tell you their staff are devastated that someone is leaking confidential information. These leaks have made their jobs far more difficult and every time people on Facebook share this leaked information, they do so at the expense of the doctors, nurses and other medical staff trying their absolute best to inform the public in an accurate and timely manner.  The Police are currently investigating this matter –– when they find whoever did the leak, they will be taken to task. 


These two new cases are the most serious developments to-date. Unlike our other case in the Suva area who was immediately self-quarantined and then isolated, there is a high risk these patients have infected others, as they not only lived in close contact with other families in their settlement, but served in very public-facing job: Both patients worked as hairdressers, one at the Jade Salon at FNPF Plaza and the other at the Super Cuts in Damodar City Suva. We’ve been informed both individuals stopped working from the 28th of March, but witness accounts have thrown those accounts into doubt. We need to respond as if both individuals were working while showing symptoms, and take assertive action to contain the virus. 
 
That is why, just as we did in the Lautoka confined area, all of the greater Suva area will be going on lockdown –– a tactic that we’re embracing because it has proven effective in containing the spread. We’ve drawn up the borders of a Suva confined area –– as you can see on the map behind me. For a period of 14 days, we’ll be closing off entry and exit at the following checkpoints, starting from 5am tomorrow morning, the 3rd of April: the Delanavesi Bridge on the Queen’s Road, the Sawani Junction, and the Nausori Bridge. 
 
Within the greater Suva confined area: 
 The greater public will not be allowed in or out – only those traveling for medical purposes will be allowed through checkpoints. 

All non-essential businesses will be closed. 

Supermarkets and shops selling food will remain open so that people can buy food. 

Restaurants can remain open, so long as they cut seating capacity below 20 people, practice safe physical distancing between tables and at queues, and must focus on takeaway and delivery orders.  

Banks will remain open so that people can get money. 

Pharmacies will remain open so that people can get medicine. 

FNPF will remain open so that people can access funds. 

Essential business will remain open. Just like Lautoka, that list includes air and rescue services, air traffic control services, civil aviation, telecommunication services, food and sanitary manufacturing plants, electricity services, emergency services, fire services, health and hospital services, lighthouse services, meteorological services, mine pumping, ventilation and winding, sanitary services, supply and distribution of fuel and gas, power, telecommunications, garbage collection, transport services, water and sewage services, FNPF and FRCS, civil service, private security services and roading services. If your business is not on this list, close it down. As for civil servants, continue to go to work unless your Permanent Secretary has informed you to work from home.

Markets will remain open but – as Minister Kumar has explained on earlier occasions –– we are decentralising markets into satellite markets to prevent the sort of dangerous overcrowding that spurs the spread of the virus; and 

Given some Fijians need to seek specialised treatment at facilities in Suva, the checkpoints will allow these individuals who need to undergo surgery or receive kidney dialysis treatment. 

  In order to ensure resident in greater Suva area can access life-sustaining services:

  • The port of Suva will remain open for international freight shipping and inter-island cargo shipping; any passenger travel, however, remains forbidden; and 
  • We will implement the same AMA arrangement we introduced in the Lautoka confined area to get food and produce into the Suva confined area. At all three checkpoints, suppliers can arrange with a police driver to ensure that produce still comes into Suva, and we don’t let the virus escape the confined area. 

 
The point is, food and essential goods will remain on the shelves of our shops and supermarkets. Do not run to the supermarkets and buy up goods this afternoon – doing so will crowd these stores and put every shopper at-risk. 
 
Nationwide, more health protection measures will be coming into effect:

  • From tomorrow night, the 3rd of April, our nationwide curfew will now begin earlier, starting at 8pm and extending until 5am. If you’re travelling for work or as a result of a medical emergency, you can travel during these hours.
  • Otherwise, don’t add your name to the ever-growing list of violators. 
  • Also from tomorrow, the 3rd of April, social gatherings will be banned entirely, everywhere in Fiji. Our 20 person limit now applies only to the workplace. Two people, three people, it doesn’t matter –– no more social gatherings. Do not have visitors over to your homes. Your interactions should be limited entirely to those already living in your households. If you’re missing a friend or loved one, do the safe thing and call them on the phone. If you need to walk around or exercise you may do so, but keep a safe distance of two metres from other people while outside. 
  • Bus operators, drivers, and riders must take measures to ensure physical distancing is practiced on all of Fiji’s buses. Spread out as much as possible, sanitise your seats, and do not come into contact with others.  

 As you know we’ve extended the restrictions locking down the Lautoka confined area until at least 5am on Tuesday, the 7th of April. But we’re making a couple of small changes: 
Restaurants can now operate, so long as they follow our safety guidelines, focusing on safe physical distancing and takeaway and delivery services; and The boundaries of the confined area will be open to those who are seeking emergency medical care or kidney dialysis. Under close police escort, these individuals travel from the checkpoints directly to Lautoka Hospital. 

My fellow Fijians, I’m confident the vast majority of people watching know we cannot afford to lose the war against this virus. I know most Fijians are following and respecting the rules we’ve put in place –– but too many still aren’t. So, if you’ve been sitting in Suva feeling as if this virus isn’t your problem, or that somehow your behaviour hasn’t needed to change –– get a grip. This virus is here and it is serious. Anyone, anywhere could be a carrier. If people follow the government’s directives, we will lock this virus down and win this war. If people don’t, many people will die. It is just that simple. 
 
There is no “magic bullet” to defeat COVID-19. There is no vaccine. There is no quick-fix, and there is no cure. There is only one strategy that’s proven to stop coronavirus, and that is changing our behaviour right now to stop its spread. 
 
As we’ve been saying for weeks: every person in Fiji needs to keep a safe distance of two metres between yourself and all others at all times. Whether you live in Lautoka, Suva, or anywhere in Fiji: Stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary that you leave. If you are leaving your home, ask yourself: Does my life or my livelihood depend on what I’m doing? If the answer is no, get back indoors and stay there – staying home saves lives. 
 
Report any symptoms you’re feeling as soon as they develop by calling our COVID-19 Call Centre on toll-free number 158 or visit one of our fever clinics. Stop sharing bilos and takis. Stop shaking hands, touching, and embracing. Stop the touch rugby matches and other close contact with others. Wash your hands with soap and water, for 20 seconds, multiple times a day. 
 
We’re closely watching the behaviour of all Fijians, and if these habits aren’t changed on your own accord, we aren’t afraid to scale up our enforcement to contain COVID-19. We can achieve this one of two ways: By your willing cooperation, or by heavy-handed action. For every Fijian, this will be much easier if you follow our directives –– but if not, we will be forced to crack down with a nationwide 24-hour curfew.
 
By the grace of God, and likely by virtue of our young population, all of Fiji’s first seven cases have been in young, healthy patients. But this isn’t always going to be the case. Make no mistake, if Fijians don’t change their behaviour, the elderly and vulnerable will be infected, and we will see a sharp rise in cases and, likely, deaths.
 
Come tomorrow, the world will pass one million confirmed cases of COVID-19. The real numbers are likely much higher, as countries across the globe –– with healthcare systems that are stretched thin –– are only able to confirm the most severe cases upon hospitalisation.
 
Fiji was one of the last countries on Earth to confirm cases, so we were blessed to have a glimpse into the future, and how bad this pandemic can become if society fails to act. It would be foolish, and self-destructive, to waste this blessing, and willingly choose inaction when we can literally see our own fate unfold on the news in China, Italy, Spain, and the United States of America.
 
If Fijians do not take this seriously, that will be our reality. We don’t know how long our national borders will be closed, because no one can say for certain how long it will be until the world rids itself of this virus. But we must take every day one at a time, not as a reason for despair, but as an opportunity for containment. Our greatest hope is in the hands of every Fijian; please, for the fate of our country and those we love, do what we’ve directed you to do. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste.
 
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you, and God bless Fiji. 

Statement by the Minister for Health and Medical Services, Hon. Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete, COVID-19, Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Bula Vinaka. 
 
After conducting 368 tests ––including another 11 last night –– Fiji has zero new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. Still, there is zero room for complacency.  We may still have five cases, all of whom remain in stable condition, but that shouldn’t lead anyone to believe this crisis is behind us. If we relent now, we will cripple our campaign to lock down this virus for good.  
 
Under the leadership of our Honourable Prime Minister, Fiji was quick to ramp up travel restrictions as the virus began its global spread. We shut our borders entirely to foreign nationals present in mainland China and other high-risk countries early on. Passenger travel to Fiji has virtually ended, save for a few planned evacuation flights. Cruise ships are banned. We have a nationwide curfew in effect from 10pm to 5am every day. Schools are closed at least until 17 April. We’ve rolled out a work from home programme for some civil servants. And, unless travel pertains directly to their lives or livelihoods, all Fijians should stay at home. 
 
As part of nationwide COVID-19 containment effort, following our first case, we locked down the Lautoka confined area on the 19th of March for a period of 14 days. Since that time, three more cases have been identified in the Lautoka confined area, the most recent of which was a 31-year-old member of the first patient’s Zumba class. 
 
That patient began displaying symptoms on Tuesday, the 23rd of March. We have since identified and entered all of her close contacts into compulsory self-quarantine –– however, there is still a risk she could have infected others. Yes, it’s a small risk. But it’s a risk we cannot afford to take. If we lift the restrictions too early and we’ve missed even one person in Lautoka who has contracted the disease, the rest of Viti Levu would be at-risk. 
 
The incubation period for this virus can be as long as 14 days. That is why, out of an abundance of caution, the Lautoka confined area will remain locked down at least until 5am in the morning on Tuesday, the 7th of April. By that time, if we are confident that we have flushed out the virus, the restrictions may be relaxed. As you know in the past few days we have opened the port in Lautoka for international shipping, including exports and imports. Of course, we will continue to allow steady flows of essential food, goods and services to come into and out of Lautoka in a controlled and hygienic fashion. 
 
We know these restrictions have not been easy for many residents within the Lautoka confined area. But take comfort knowing that these tough decisions we’re making could very well spare us enormous future suffering. Nobody wants to see a large-scale outbreak of this virus in Fiji –– and that means making hard calls today that keep this virus at bay. While this lockdown continues, we are re-doubling our efforts to ensure this virus has not spread further. Our teams in the Lautoka confined area are going to test and test and test until we know this virus has been contained. 
 
The extension of the lockdown means the same rules remain: No one in and no one out. We know that some Lautoka residents have been caught outside of the Lautoka confined area. We know this has not been an easy two weeks for these Fijians. I want to thank those living outside the Lautoka confined area who are opening their homes to friends, family and even just their fellow Fijians during the lockdown. But know that these measures have been put in place to keep you safe, and keep your friends and family within the confined area safe as well.
 
At the present time, in the interest of keeping everyone safe, we cannot allow anyone back into the confined area. I’ll tell you why: Our investigations revealed serious gaps in the account provided by the first patient about when his symptoms actually began. It’s clear we cannot trust everything he has said. Even though we’ve now successfully accounted for all of his known contacts, it is in the nation’s best interest that we all act as if there are still more cases in the area waiting to be detected, and even in the surrounding areas, such as Nadi, until we know with certainty that there are not. On top of that, we cannot disregard the possibility that the recent patient –– the man who recently travelled to Fiji prior to testing positive while in New Zealand –– may have picked up the virus while he was here. 
 
To those living within the Lautoka confined area, know that the single quickest way to open up your boundaries and return to normal is by seeing as many people in the Lautoka confined area as possible tested for fevers at our new clinics. To be blunt, the low number of Fijians visiting these fever clinics in the Lautoka confined area has, so far, been severely disappointing, and this lack of action only holds up our efforts. So, if you’re showing any symptoms –– like a sore throat, cough, or fever –– please, go get yourself tested. If teams visit your home, be honest about how you are feeling and who you have seen. It is your God-given responsibility to your family, your community, and your country. 
 
We also know many families have been anxious about what this virus –– and the accompanying global recession –– will mean for their livelihoods. In our COVID-19 response budget, the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister for Economy unveiled a historic package of support to Fijian businesses, employees and families, along with a 40 million-dollar injection directly into our healthcare systems; a big financial boost that I –– along with our frontline health workers –– deeply appreciate. 
 
Ladies and gentlemen, That passage of that budget included a new amendment to the Public Health Act to step up our enforcement of the measures we’ve introduced to keep the Fijian people safe; because we are not relying on goodwill alone to do what must be done  to stop this virus from spiralling into an outbreak. The police have already made dozens of arrests relating to violations of our health protection measures and –– through an amendment to the Public Health Act –– liars and law-breakers can face up to five years in prison, a ten thousand dollar fine, or both. 
 
But despite some of the reckless actions and attitudes we’ve seen, we know many Fijians have  been playing by the rules. In fact, many have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the campaign against the coronavirus. I want to thank the businesses who are putting physical distancing into practice for their employees and customers. I want to thank the concerned citizens who have reported irresponsible behaviour to the police. I especially want to thank the doctors and the nurses who spend every day on the frontlines, identifying, containing and treating this virus and keeping us safe. 
 
And I want to thank everyone who realises that the government cannot secure victory over this virus alone. We are in a fight for the lives of our most vulnerable, and we need the vigilance, discipline and genuine compassion of every single Fijian to win it. 
 
We need everyone washing their hands with soap and water as often as they can. We need everyone maintaining a two-metre safe distance from others as much as possible; that means queuing responsibly no matter what you’re waiting for, and staying at home as often as possible. We need everyone to drop the stigma around being tested, whether that’s for the common fever, flu, or COVID-19 –– because, despite them sharing some symptoms, distinguishing between coronavirus and other viral infections is critical to saving lives. If you have a cough, fever, sore throat or shortness of breath and have been overseas or been in contact with someone who has been overseas, call the Ministry of Health on toll-free number 158 immediately. 
 
No expert can say with certainty how long this global crisis will last. But what we do know is that we don’t stand a chance at snuffing out this virus unless every Fijian gets behind the government’s plan and does their part in winning the war on COVID-19. So, do your part.
 
Do it for yourself, do it for those you love, do it for Fiji. 
 
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. God Bless Fiji.

Media Release – Protocol for Nation-Wide Curfew – COVID-19

The Hon. Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum together with the Hon. Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development, Hon. Premila Kumar on Saturday, 28 March 2020, met with industries to develop clear protocols to manage and facilitate movement of essential staff of businesses operating during the nation-wide curfew period.

As announced by the Hon. Prime Minister, in order to minimise non-essential movement of Fijians, in Fiji’s bid to contain Coronavirus (COVID-19), there will be a nation-wide curfew in place from Monday, 30 March 2020.  This curfew will apply daily from 10pm to 5am.

There are industries and certain service providers that operate in a number of shifts. These businesses will be allowed to continue operations during the curfew period.

In this regard, all businesses will need to ensure all staff who are required to work during curfew hours carry the following:

(i)            Company Photo ID cards, in the absence of company ID, the staff will need to carry a valid National photo ID, such as Voter ID, Joint ID or Driver’s License;

(ii)           Letter on company letterhead issued to staff that they are required to work during that specific time; and

(iii)          National Contact Centre telephone contact (where applicable) to verify the claims of the staff. Where there is no contact centre, a contact officer should be identified and contact details provided.

The contracted service provider, that is, taxi or bus operator, or port service providers, such as tug operators or line port service providers, to name a few, should be provided with the following:

(i)            A letter from the contracting company on company letterhead that they are service providers for the company and are required to work during the curfew period; and

(iv)          National Contact Centre telephone contact (where applicable) to verify the claims. Where there is no contact centre, a contact officer should be identified and contact details provided.

These measures are in place to enable business to continue without any disruptions.

For further information, please contact the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism on phone:+679 990 7421.

The Hon. Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum together with the Hon. Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development, Hon. Premila Kumar on Saturday, 28 March 2020, met with industries to develop clear protocols to manage and facilitate movement of essential staff of businesses operating during the nation-wide curfew period.

As announced by the Hon. Prime Minister, in order to minimise non-essential movement of Fijians, in Fiji’s bid to contain Coronavirus (COVID-19), there will be a nation-wide curfew in place from Monday, 30 March 2020.  This curfew will apply daily from 10pm to 5am.

There are industries and certain service providers that operate in a number of shifts. These businesses will be allowed to continue operations during the curfew period.

In this regard, all businesses will need to ensure all staff who are required to work during curfew hours carry the following:

(i)            Company Photo ID cards, in the absence of company ID, the staff will need to carry a valid National photo ID, such as Voter ID, Joint ID or Driver’s License;

(ii)           Letter on company letterhead issued to staff that they are required to work during that specific time; and

(iii)          National Contact Centre telephone contact (where applicable) to verify the claims of the staff. Where there is no contact centre, a contact officer should be identified and contact details provided.

The contracted service provider, that is, taxi or bus operator, or port service providers, such as tug operators or line port service providers, to name a few, should be provided with the following:

(i)            A letter from the contracting company on company letterhead that they are service providers for the company and are required to work during the curfew period; and

(iv)          National Contact Centre telephone contact (where applicable) to verify the claims. Where there is no contact centre, a contact officer should be identified and contact details provided.

These measures are in place to enable business to continue without any disruptions.

For further information, please contact the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism on phone:  +679 990 7421.

Statement by Hon. Prime Minister J.V. Bainimarama on COVID-19 – Sunday, 29 March 2020

Bula Vinaka. 

As of today, the 29th of March, there are no new cases of COVID-19 in Fiji. After testing over 330 suspected cases –– many of whom were in direct contact with our first five patients –– all other results have returned negative. Meanwhile, the five Fijians living with COVID-19 are all in stable condition. 

From the moment the threat of a global pandemic was clear, our medical teams have been preparing to identify and isolate the virus if it arrived in Fiji. We acted decisively when our first case was confirmed and –– due to our diligence ––  we know where every one of our first five cases originated. We’ve also been successful in identifying and isolating or quarantining their closest contacts –– we have now accounted for the over 300 passengers who flew on the same flights as the first patient –– all of those passengers who are in Fiji have been directed to self-quarantine for 14 days. 

I appreciate that our lockdown measures and travel restrictions haven’t been easy for everyone –– but it is clear these were the right measures taken at the right time to lockdown this virus. 

Through the intensive work of our contact tracing teams, doctors, nurses, health inspectors, police officers, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces personnel, and the support staff from across government, we’ve done extremely well surveilling for, testing and containing new cases. 

But even if we throw every resource in government at our response effort, without widespread public compliance, we will not win the war on coronavirus –– and we are at war, make no mistake. 

I know every Fijian wants to stop this virus dead in its tracks. I know we all want to get back to the business of living normally as soon as it is safe to do so –– it’s high time every Fijian starts supporting and adhering to the government’s measures to keep them safe and beat this virus once and for all.

We are doing everything that needs to be done to urgently contain this virus. Everyone who gets off our flights is being quarantined in government-funded, designated centres, and monitored. We have been relentlessly tracking down contacts, monitoring self-quarantines, and testing hundreds of suspected cases. And every day, we are actively ramping up these efforts even more –– preparing and expanding our facilities, setting up new fever clinics, scoping out new isolation centres to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We cannot, and will not, rest so long as COVID-19 poses a risk to the Fijian people. 

So, while we may not have a new case yet –– that fact shouldn’t lull anyone into a false sense of security. In fact, every person in Fiji should act as if anyone, anywhere could be a carrier of the virus. Act as if you –– or someone you love –– are already Fiji’s next case of COVID-19. 

I’m not trying to scare anyone. But I do want every person watching or listening to recognise the role they have to play. Because all it takes is one careless, symptomatic person to undo all of our diligence and discipline in defeating this virus for good. 

This is a crisis, lives are on the line, the economy is on the line, and we all must treat this situation with total seriousness. 

No matter where you are in Fiji –– treat this crisis seriously. If you’re at the market, at your place of work, or at a government office –– treat this crisis seriously; keep a safe distance of two metres between you and others as much as humanly possible, wash your hands with soap and water, and unless you are getting food, going to work, or doing something else vital to your life or for your livelihood, stay at home. Help keep the elderly at home. Keep your children at home. And think critically about how you go about your day-to-day life. When you touch something that somebody else has touched, you could spread the disease, whether that’s mixing your kava, sharing a cigarette, coughing without covering your mouth, or even spitting on the ground –– all of these activities can put people at risk. 
 
If you’ve been directed into compulsory self-quarantine, or know someone who has been ordered into quarantine –– treat this crisis seriously. Stay where you’ve been directed to stay so we can contain the virus if it rears its ugly head.
 
Because if you break government-imposed quarantine –– or any of our other rules –– you will end up paying the price. When we passed our COVID-19 Response Budget, we also gave teeth to our enforcement under the Public Health Act. It used to be a $40 fine if anyone violated our COVID-19 health protection measures; now, it’s five years in prison and up to a 10,000-dollar fine, or both. Law-breakers be warned –– we will have zero tolerance for those recklessly risking the lives of themselves or others.
 
But I know there are also thousands of Fijians out there who are actually doing the right thing. I’m speaking of the supermarket managers who have properly spaced out their check-out lines to enforce physical distancing; the restaurants who have cut their seating and who are switching over to take-aways and deliveries; the villages that have locked down and enforced strict physical distancing; the parents keeping close watch of their children; and all those who have deferred and downsized their weddings, religious services, kava sessions, parties and other plans to respect our ban on gatherings of 20 or more. Keep up the good work, and demand your fellow citizens follow your lead. 
 
Over and over, Fijians have heard me talk about the essential steps needed to contain the spread of the virus.  These have all been matters of personal responsibility –– because while the government can make these recommendations, or even hand out punishments, ultimately, individual action, and individual responsibility, will be what wins this war –– because there’s no other option; this is a war we cannot afford to lose.  
 
Today, I want to stress another way in which you can demonstrate responsibility, and play your part in combating coronavirus: break the stigma around those who are seeking care. I understand that these are already scary times, and it may be intimidating to visit our health centres –– particularly, the new fever clinics that we’ve put up throughout Fiji. But anyone who has a fever, even if you don’t have a recent travel history, should visit one of these clinics, and encourage your loved ones and neighbours to do the same. 
 
This is particularly important as Fiji enters the flu season –– a virus that shares many of the symptoms of COVID-19. Let me be clear: There is no shame in being sick. There is no shame in having the flu, a fever, or coronavirus. By seeking treatment for your sickness, and by reporting your symptoms as soon as they develop, you are being incredibly responsible, and you are looking out for more than yourself; you’re taking care of those around you, and you’re taking care of those you love. 
 
If you’re spreading rumours, or whispering about those who are visiting our fever clinics, you’re damaging our containment efforts. Anyone who goes to get a check-up should be praised –– they are playing a crucial role in keeping COVID-19 at bay. The only shame comes in hiding your symptoms, or by being dishonest –– that is what ultimately spreads this silent killer.
 
Take a moment to think about it this way: Think of everywhere you’ve been, everything you’ve been up to and how you’ve been feeling over the past 14 days. Have you been acting like a responsible Fijian? Have you been physically distancing yourself from others? Have you been avoiding travel unless absolutely necessary? If you’ve been feeling sick, or know someone who is sick, have you told anyone? Or have you acted in reckless ways that have put your fellow Fijians at risk? 
 
Winning this war begins with winning the small battles, every day, in all of our lives. So, let’s use positive social pressure to encourage our friends and family to visit these fever clinics if they’re having a fever, wherever they live in Fiji. Visiting these clinics is a win for everyone involved; it’s a win for you in detecting your sickness early. It’s a win for your family and your community, as they will be protected from the spread. It’s a win for our COVID-19 containment efforts, because even in the worst-case scenario, you will be treated and isolated early, saving lives in the process. And it’s a win for your country –– because we are all in this fight together.  
 
In the days ahead, I want to see that same spirit of positive social pressure in the Lautoka confined area, as this week will prove absolutely critical in determining whether –– come Friday morning –– we either lift restrictions or have to extend them. If even one of you fails to follow the rules and –– God forbid –– this virus spreads within Lautoka, all of you will stay on lockdown even longer. 
 
So, to those currently in the Lautoka confined zone, you all need to ensure the rules are followed, and encourage each other –– your community, and everyone you see –– to do the same. There’s only five days left; pull up your socks, keep to the rules and get your city through this –– together. 
 
On the subject of following the rules, I want to take some time to talk about an additional measure that I announced in Parliament last Friday –– a new, nationwide curfew that will be enforced from 10pm at night until 5am in the morning, every night, everywhere in Fiji. Starting tomorrow, the 30th of March, the police will have over 100 permanent checkpoints set up all throughout the country, to be supplemented with more, temporary checkpoints as the need arises. 
 
Yesterday, we met with a number of stakeholders –– members of the business community, utility companies, manufacturers, and others –– to sort out the logistics of this curfew, ensuring that it will be enforced in a way that is mindful of those workers who need to travel during the curfew hours for their jobs, like shift workers, bakers and fishermen and women, security guards, utility employees and, of course, our healthcare workers. If you’re seeking medical care, or who have some other emergency to tend to you are also permitted to travel. We will not allow the curfew measures to stop work, end business service or halt the flow of goods. 
 
But the main message for the vast majority of Fijians is this: Between the hours of 10 at night and 5 in the morning, no wandering the streets. Unless you have an emergency or are working, going to work, or coming home from work then you need to be at home during curfew. If you’re caught out without a valid reason, you’ll face serious consequences. This is about responsibility. This about making hard calls today that spare us future suffering and that get us past the worst of this virus sooner, rather than later. An abundance of caution today will bring an expedient end to this crisis, get all of our businesses open again, and get life back to normal as soon as possible. 
 
Please also note that, in the interest of convenience and due to travel restrictions, every existing work permit in Fiji will be automatically extended for the next three months. The Permanent Secretary for Immigration will issue details soon on this proactive measure.  
 
Minister Premila Kumar is here with me today, and she will be talking about the steps both employers and employees will need to take to ensure the curfew is implemented without a hitch, and also be explaining how our markets and their vendors will adjust to both our physical distancing measures and new curfew.  The Commissioner of Police is here to answer any other questions relating to the new curfew. 
 
But we also recognise that our strictly-enforced curfew –– in addition to our directives for all Fijians to stay at home at all hours of the day –– will have unseen social consequences. More families living in closer proximity and spending more time in confined spaces and temporary job losses can lead to tensions. Sadly, we may see a spike in domestic violence. Spouses or children may feel trapped in their home with their abusers. Fijians should know that we are acutely aware of this, and it is not an issue we are taking lightly. That’s why I’m also joined by Minister Vuniwaqa, who can speak more about the support the Ministry of Women is able to provide to those looking for help in these already-difficult times. 
 
My fellow Fijians, 
 
As I mentioned in Parliament last week, we had two evacuation flights come in from Australia and New Zealand over the weekend to get Fijians back home and return foreign nationals to their countries. While Nadi Airport is closed to regular passenger travel, these flights were critical to repatriate people and bring in some essential supplies –– including one million dollars’ worth of personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and goggles, for our frontline health workers. Rest assured, every passenger who has landed in Fiji has immediately entered compulsory quarantine in government-funded designated areas, under close supervision by medical teams and personnel of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. They will not interact with anyone from the public for at least 14 days. Additionally, from 6pm tomorrow, inter-island flights will cease, except for freight purposes. This comes on top of our ban on inter-island passenger shipping travel, which takes effect from today. 
 
Even though we haven’t seen a huge rise in cases, we’re still preparing as if a disaster scenario could be upon us any day. In addition to our isolation wards in each division, we have identified and prepared well-equipped surge locations in case the capacity of our hospitals is tested. Our outreach teams are across the country raising community awareness of how to combat coronavirus. Those Fijians under compulsory self-quarantine are receiving check-in calls and in-person visits by members of our disciplined forces and health workers. 
 
But even in our best-case scenario, even if we eradicate this virus in Fiji, and even if we’re able to resume much of normal life, many Fijian businesses and families are in for a very difficult few months –– at least. Australia, New Zealand and the United States are all battling extremely serious COVID-19 outbreaks, and flows of tourism and trade will either be cut off or slowed for the foreseeable future. In fact, New Zealand, I’m sad to report, has just recorded their first death from the virus. 
 
Last Thursday, we announced our COVID-19 Response Budget which properly equips our hospitals and rolls out a one-billion-dollar stimulus package to extend financial lifelines to some of the most severely affected Fijians to keep economic activity alive, even in these strenuous times. If the situation continues to go downhill, new measures of support will be provided. So, to the countless Fijians anxious about what the future holds –– know that you are not alone. Your government will be there to support you through however many weeks or months it takes for the world to beat this virus. We feel your suffering, and we are working every hour of the day to return our lives, our businesses, and our country to normal as quickly as humanly possible. 
 
In the meantime, we will continue to keep you updated on what we’re doing, what we’ve done and –– most importantly –– what we’re prepared to do if deemed medically necessary. 
 
This Tuesday we’ll be rolling out a new COVID-19 Call Centre to handle all concerns relating to COVID-19 and our response measures, with one toll-free number anyone can call. Until Tuesday, if you, or someone you’ve had contact with, has recently travelled overseas and you are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 –– even if those symptoms are as mild as a sore throat or cough –– you can call the following numbers:
 
In the Central Division call 2219905; 
In the Eastern Division call 2219906;
In the Western Division call 2219907; and
In the Northern Division call 2219908.
 
On this Sunday, I’d like to extend one final thank you to all of the faith leaders from all religions across the country who have led by example in keeping their followers away from gatherings of 20 or more people, and who have been praying for Fiji in the wake of this global crisis. Because even in a time when religious services cannot take place due to this virus, remember, we Fijian always draw our greatest strength from faith –– never from fear. While large gatherings pose too great a risk, God will always be with us, wherever we are and wherever we pray and however we pray. 
 
My fellow Fijians –– don’t let up now. Double-down on your efforts. Wash your hands twice as often this week. Stay at home as much as possible, and adhere to our new curfew. Let’s lock down this virus. Let’s win this war –– together. 
 
I’ll now pass things over to Doctor Aalisha. 
 
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. And God Bless Fiji.