The Ministry of Health says the public is advised that if indeed the COVID-19 variant, Omicron is more transmissible than Delta, then it will be inevitable that it gets to Fiji.
Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says this new variant is a reminder that for as long as there is a pandemic, Fiji will continue to face a threat from the virus and its variants.
He says if transmissible enough, stringent border and community measures will only delay the inevitable entry and spread of current and future variants of the COVID 19 virus.
Doctor Fong also says Fiji citizens will only be safe if we remain COVID-safe with 2 metres physical distancing, mask wisely by carrying a mask when you out of your home and wear the mask properly in public indoor spaces, public service vehicles, and outdoor crowded spaces; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keep hands clean; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.
The Ministry says the current steps they are taking do not change; they work on better positioning ourselves to deal with a third wave, irrespective of whether it is through Omicron or the current Delta variant that is endemic to Fiji.
It says while there is ongoing effort to understand the impact of this variant on vaccines, it is important to understand that vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta.
Doctor Fong says current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death.
He also says it should be noted that South African states are poorly vaccinated compared to Fiji, and all our COVID safe measures are proven to work in reducing transmission especially within a highly vaccinated population.
Doctor Fong says they are continuing their efforts to vaccinate all our children 12 to 17 years and providing booster doses to frontliners and vulnerable persons.
He also says preliminary data is suggesting increased rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of a specific infection with Omicron.
Doctor Fong says South Africa and the nearby region is poorly vaccinated region and an increase in transmission of COVID 19, whatever the variant, will increase the number of hospitalizations.
He also says understanding the impact of the Omicron variant on disease severity, especially in the vulnerable, will take days to several weeks.
The Health Ministry also says there are early data to suggest that people who have previously had COVID-19 could become re-infected more easily with Omicron, as compared to other variants of concern, but the information is limited. He says more information on this will become available in the coming days and weeks.
Doctor Fong says the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is continuing to improve public health and medical capacities to manage an increase in cases.
He says the community surveillance through test trace and track protocols is being escalated to help them identify and contain any outbreak early, registration and line listing of vulnerable persons especially in poorly vaccinated areas has been done, preparations for the monitoring of positive cases and vulnerable persons to ensure better access to appropriate care plans has been made and clinical care protocols for the severe disease have been reviewed and strengthened.
Meanwhile fijivillage has asked for clarification from Doctor Fong on the measures to ensure we do not have cases when people come in from today, stay at the hotel for 3 days but are allowed to move to travel safe areas.
We have also asked what would be the travel safe areas and how will people be transported and monitored.
Legend FM News has also asked whether it would be safe for international visitors to leave the hotel premises during those 3 days and what measures are in place.
Doctor Fong says they have a map that has all the red zones in Fiji and this has been progressively decreasing.
He has also made it clear that they have citizens in quarantine who came in from African states before the Omicron announcement and will be tested.
Doctor Fong says the 3 day stay has a 2nd day test, 10 day quarantine are tested on arrival and on day 8 while 14 day quarantine will get tested on arrival, day 5 and day 12.
With Fiji’s borders opening to international tourists tomorrow, the Ministry of Health anticipates their testing numbers to increase from international repatriates and travellers including Fijians visiting families and friends.
Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says with increasing COVID-19 cases in the European region, and the emergence of the new variant of concern, Omicron, noted to have several mutations, is a cause for concern.
Doctor Fong says their border health measures and surveillance will need to be strengthened and maintained.
He confirms the weekly testing numbers of over 4,000 are still above the WHO recommended rate of 4 tests per 1,000 population per week (or approximately 3,500 tests per week) and they anticipate continued surveillance and testing in the communities and maritime islands to monitor and detect cases for early intervention.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has started the booster doses of the Moderna vaccine to the frontliners and the vulnerable population from current vaccination sites.
The Ministry says the target population is the people who received their second dose of the COVID vaccine more than 5 months ago, that is, before 1st July 2021. These include front-liners, persons aged 60 years and over, persons under 60 years who have medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, and others, confirmed by a medical doctor at a health facility.
It says when presenting for the booster dose, individuals under 60 years with any of the medical conditions are requested to bring along their Vaccination Card and their Special Outpatient Department card or a letter from their treating doctor confirming the presence of the medical condition.
The Health Ministry says eligible individuals who are not able to go to a vaccination site for the booster dose can contact toll-free line 158 to register for home vaccination.
It says the main objective of providing booster doses to this target population is to ensure that they have full protection against the COVID-19 virus for those who will deal directly with incoming travellers when international borders open, and those who will be at the highest risk for the severe disease when exposed to the virus.
This also follows use of the Moderna vaccine for booster doses by stringent regulatory authorities, and the commencement of booster doses in more than 30 countries around the world that include the US, UK, Israel, Singapore, and France, and in preparation for the opening of Fiji’s international border in December.
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