Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong has confirmed that there are 89 new cases of COVID-19, and he is confident that case numbers will rise in the near term and that record of daily cases will be broken again.
However Doctor Fong says it does not mean they are helpless and it does not mean we cannot protect ourselves.
He says most of these cases are contacts of cases they have found and from clusters, they know about.
Doctor Fong says this is useful for containment purposes because it lets them know where to target lockdowns but the sheer number of daily cases is a matter of concern.
He says if we look inside the numbers, we can give ourselves a much clearer idea of exactly what is happening.
The Permanent Secretary says when we do, we see other factors that are a cause for some optimism over the long-term.
He says first, they are testing more than they ever have.
Doctor Fong says at this same time last year, they were running under 120 tests a day.
He says now, they can run over 3,000 tests every 24 hours.
The Permanent Secretary says relative to our population, we are testing more than any other country in Oceania.
He says that’s because we are dealing with an outbreak, and because of the massive expansions, we have made to our testing capacity.
Doctor Fong says second is that the number of severe cases is very low.
In his view, even one is too many.
He says very few people have needed hospital care, and there may be a number of reasons for that, but they believe that the fact that almost half the adults in Fiji have received at least one dose of the vaccine could be one reason.
Doctor Fong says that is a reminder to all of us about the value of the vaccines and the protection they offer against severe disease.
He says another is possibly the relative youth of our population.
Doctor Fong says healthy young people are generally less likely to get a severe case than older people however, they can pass the virus to more vulnerable people, so all of us, especially young people must exercise extreme caution at all times.
The third major factor inside these numbers is that most of these cases are occurring within known clusters, and often among people who are already isolated.
Doctor Fong says they know that in several of these clusters people live in close proximity to each other, so even after they have locked them down, the spread within those communities is highly likely.
He says as long as we can maintain the integrity of the areas of isolation, we have a good chance of limiting or stemming the spread.
The Permanent Secretary for Health confirms that they are in discussions with Australia about a range of areas for their continued support, including contingency options, like an AUSMAT (Australian Medical Assistance Teams) deployment, if it should be needed as Fiji deals with COVID-19 cases and other cases relating to critical care.
Doctor James Fong says they have continued to confirm cases at the CWM Hospital cluster, which is now a wholly dedicated COVID-care facility.
He says they have to combat the virus while continuing to give Fijians access to critical care.
The other current major clusters are in Kinoya, Navosai, Nawajikuma-Nadi, Tramline-Nadi, Waila, Grantham Road, Tacirua, the Navy Headquarters, Muanikoso and the Nasinu Police Barracks.
Doctor Fong stresses that these areas are where the risk of transmission is highest but clusters do not always denote a location as someone can be linked to a cluster but live in a different part of Suva than the case they are linked to.
He says there are certainly cases beyond these clusters they have also not identified but risk resides everywhere in the Central Division, and they have good reason to suspect, in other areas of Viti Levu as well.
Doctor Fong stresses that we must still take every possible measure to protect ourselves.
He also says he is still in home quarantine as a contact of a confirmed case from the Incident Management Team which he leads.
The Permanent Secretary says he has continued to test negative for the virus and is expected to clear home quarantine on 17th June following a negative final exit swab.
Doctor Fong says there are no social gatherings allowed of any nature, all houses of worship are closed, businesses without clear, COVID-safe plans cannot open and those approved to open should have the careFIJI QR code at the point of entry, masks must be worn everywhere in public, people should have their careFIJI app on and everyone should follow the COVID safety guidelines.
Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong urges the politicians who are saying that the Health Ministry has no plan for COVID-19 to walk back that rhetoric and consider the clear and firm plan that the Ministry is working to implement day and night.
Doctor Fong says they are saying the Ministry has no plan, undermining confidence in their mitigation measures.
He says no plan means no hope and that simply isn’t true.
The Permanent Secretary says mitigation is a plan.
He says it is well documented in the Public Health Publications and was part of the preparedness and response document that they developed in February 2020.
Doctor Fong says they follow the science by adjusting it to our context.
He is asking all politicians to use their platforms to help encourage Fijians to follow the clear rules we have in place.
Doctor Fong says if you have 100,000 followers, 1,000 followers, or ten followers: Use your platform.
He is calling on them to help the Ministry to tell people to wear masks, tell people to avoid gatherings and keep good physical distance from others, tell people to install careFIJI and use the new QR code system and tell people why they should make the choice to be vaccinated.
The Permanent Secretary says they can’t win this fight alone.
He says we need all of you with us; and all your family, friends and neighbours.
Doctor Fong says all positive patients are entered into home isolation, contacts of cases are entered into quarantine and must test negative over 14 days before being cleared, areas with high case numbers are being locked down in a targeted manner, groceries and household essentials are being provided to these families under lockdown orders, nursing homes and elderly care facilities have been closed to all visitors; and they are rolling out vaccines at an excellent pace.
He says a Telehealth program piloted in Lautoka to allow for healthcare consultations over the phone is progressing well based on feedback from the clinicians and customers.
They will be looking to expand this pilot project into existing protocols in CWM Hospital and health facilities within the Lami-Nausori containment zone.
He says this is all to say: They are not giving up.
Doctor Fong says a key pillar of their mitigation phase is protecting those most vulnerable; the elderly and those living with co-morbidities that make them more likely to become seriously ill or die from the virus.
He says for their sake, we all must stay the course.
The Permanent Secretary says they are also protecting the economically vulnerable by paving highly-controlled COVID-safe pathways for businesses to re-open.
He says a number of barbershops and hairdressers were given permission to reopen recently.
Doctor Fong says they are confident that as long as the barbers and patrons are wearing masks at all times, haircuts can be managed safely.
He says the risk of transmission, will never be zero but they can bring that risk as close to zero as possible if everyone follows the rules.
Doctor Fong also says groceries and other household essentials have been delivered to areas under lockdown, including in Nawaka, where they had some dangerously crowded protests over the weekend.
He says he was sorry to see that protest take place when groceries and household essentials were already on the way.
The Permanent Secretary says in fact, they had notified the community several days prior that those items were to be delivered that day, and they were delivered on schedule.
He says that same day of the protest, the third delivery of groceries and household items arrived to the community.
Doctor Fong says when he sees crowding like that in a lockdown area, he sees the risk of transmission.
He says we have already seen 119 cases in Nadi since the start of this outbreak, with another 28 confirmed in the last 24 hours, up till 6am this morning.
He is again asking for the patience of the public as they seek to contain the spread of this virus.
Doctor Fong says together with the Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Communications, they are strengthening their database by allowing for the electronic registration of household information and their needs.
He also says extensive discussions are taking place to create a mechanism for the many Fijians stuck in Viti Levu to make the journey home.
Doctor Fong says in many instances children have not seen their parents, wives and husbands have been separated.
He says the Health Ministry with the Ministry of Commerce Trade Tourism and Transport, Ministry of Maritime and Rural Affairs and Ministry of iTaukei Affairs have put together a number of protocols to ensure that the protocols of safe travel, including a proper 14 days of quarantine, are fully adhered to.
The Permanent Secretary also thanks all of the businesses that have enlisted in the plan to make Fiji COVID-safe, the businesses that are adopting careFIJI QR codes and the businesses that are offering discounts to vaccinated Fijians.
He says we need more of that and they appreciate the leaders who are using their voices to support this plan and help it succeed.
Head of Health Protection Dr Aalisha Sahukhan says one patient who had tested positive for COVID-19 during her admission at the CWM Hospital has passed away.
Dr. Sahukhan says the doctors that treated her have ruled out COVID-19 as her cause of death.
She says her cause of death is related to the severe illness for which she was admitted in the ICU.
Dr. Sahukhan adds the Health Ministry expresses their condolences to her family.
She further says that 23 patients have recovered which means there are 860 active cases in isolation.
Dr. Sahukhan says Fiji has had 1,136 cases since this outbreak began in April while we have had 1206 cases since our first case in March last year.
There have been 335 recoveries.
She adds that 4 people have died due to COVID-19 while 7 positive COVID cases have died due to pre-existing non COVID related illnesses.
Meanwhile Dr. Sahukhan says vaccination is not new to Fiji and has urged everyone to get vaccinated.
The Health Ministry's Chief Medical Advisor Doctor Jemesa Tudravu says we must not let the number of COVID cases surpass the capacity of health services to cater for sick people.
He says this is their capacity to care for very sick people including ICU care.
Tudravu says they are also building up the hospital capacity which also includes their fall back capacity such as FEMAT, so essentially, if the increasing cases outstrip their current and reserve capacities, then the fight will be extremely difficult.
Dr Tudravu says if people follow the COVID 19 safe measures diligently, this will not be the case.
He says this is Day 50 of the current outbreak and Day 10 ever since the FEMAT Field Hospital in Suva was operational.
Dr Tudravu says FEMAT Hospital is also seeing referrals for the Central Division from Navua to Nayavu in Wainibuka.
He says 45 surgical operations and13 deliveries were done at FEMAT.
Dr Tudravu says 129 personnel are currently operating at the field hospital.
He says screening and swabbing continues in parts of the country.
Health Ministry's Permanent Secretary Dr James Fong reveals there were difficulties in the initial part of their operation at the CWM Hospital regarding the designation as to who were the primary and secondary contacts of COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Fong says some people were designated as secondary contacts and were released to go home after four days of quarantine after initial assessment however there was realisation later that these people needed to come back for the full quarantine measure.
He revealed this when asked as to how the discharged patients of CWM Hospital are testing positive to COVID-19 after released into the communities.
Dr. Fong says he agrees that when CWM Hospital went into lockdown, they had a little bit of problem regarding definitions of primary and secondary contacts.
He says this has been sorted and they have moved forward with a clearer view of what needs to be sorted to define primary and secondary contacts.
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