Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong confirms two pregnant mothers are part if the 21 deaths from COVID-19 for the period of 14th to 20th July.
Doctor Fong says both women had been unwell with COVID symptoms at home before presenting to the health facilities in severe respiratory distress.
He says in both cases, the physicians made the decision to conduct emergency caesarean operations to rescue the newborns and assist with the care of the mothers.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of the attending physicians, both mothers passed away.
However, Doctor Fong says the fast actions of the obstetric team saved both babies.
He says maternal deaths at any time are a tragedy, and maternal deaths due to COVID-19 are a clear indication of the severity of this outbreak.
Doctor Fong says given the rapidly evolving situation, the MOH teams have been working around the clock to reprioritise and focus their efforts to ensure they are protecting those most at risk of severe COVID-19 and dying - our elderly, people with existing medical conditions and pregnant women.
He says these shifts include changes to the testing services, home quarantine guidance, ensuring they are providing life-saving medical care to those people who are most at risk and establishing vaccination for pregnant women.
But he says they need your cooperation because saving lives from COVID-19 depends on your adherence to the rules and your understanding as much as ever.
Doctor Fong also says we have seen week-over-week increases in our 7-day rolling average of cases, with another 1,091 new cases confirmed in the past 24-hour period.
He says while the current outbreak is contained to Viti Levu, and primarily in the Lami-Nausori corridor, over the last week they have also seen increasing cases in the Western Division.
Changes in testing strategy for COVID-19 in the Lami to Nausori area have been announced by Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong as those at high risk of severe COVID-19 in this area will now be prioritised for testing and rapid turnaround of their results.
Doctor Fong says if you or someone you are caring for is at high risk of severe COVID - in particular individuals over 50 years, have a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, asthma, are obese, or are pregnant - they need you to get in touch right away and visit one of their screening clinics.
If you test positive, then the Ministry of Health will ensure you are provided immediate care by the health teams.
He says over the past few weeks, the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths have been in our most vulnerable community members.
Doctor Fong says when the health teams first saw these patients, most of them were either in a critical condition or had already passed away.
He says if the health teams were able to see these patients earlier, they may have been able to save them.
Doctor Fong says they know many families are valiantly trying to care for their loved ones at home, but for those who are most at risk of severe COVID-19, home care won’t be enough.
These individuals need their oxygen levels closely monitored, likely need access to supplemental oxygen, as well as clinical teams to rapidly respond if their condition deteriorates.
For people in the Lami to Nausori area who are at lower risk of severe COVID, if you have been in close contact with someone with COVID - for example, you live or work with someone who has COVID-19 - you should assume you also have the virus.
Doctor Fong says this means you should immediately quarantine at home for the next 14 days.
If you develop any COVID-19 symptoms during this 14-day period, such as a cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, loss of taste or smell, body ache, headache - you should most certainly assume you have COVID-19 and self-isolate.
He says most people infected with COVID-19 will have only mild symptoms and fully recover at home.
The Permanent Secretary says for lower risk individuals with COVID, they ask you to please stay at home for 14 days, isolate yourself from other family members and continue to monitor your symptoms for severe COVID-19.
If you develop any signs of severe COVID-19, like difficulty breathing or chest pain, please go to one of the dedicated health facilities.
He says he knows some people have experienced delays in being swabbed and receiving their test results.
Doctor Fong says at the national level their testing is averaging 4.3 tests per 1000 population per day, and in Suva-Nausori 6 per 1000 population per day.
He says at a population level, they are testing at similar rates to developed countries like Australia, and the state of New South Wales, which also has an outbreak, and they are doing so through just six laboratories.
He says they are working on increasing the testing capacity, including establishing a new Fiji CDC lab for Nadi in August.
And they are developing a new web-based system for delivering test results to patients.
But Doctor Fong says as cases have increased in the last two weeks, so has the demand for testing, and for non-urgent samples, this affects the turnaround time.
That has necessitated the important changes for the Ministry, and it requires new action from you as the Ministry of Health needs to target their testing to where the result makes a difference to the outcomes of patients.
That means they need to target testing for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19.
410,495 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 83,732 are fully vaccinated.
Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says this means 70 percent of the target population in Fiji have now received their first dose.
Doctor Fong says for those who are fully vaccinated, please remember that while you are offered very strong protection against severe disease and death, you can still get COVID-19 and pass it on to others so please adhere closely to the other COVID-safe measures.
For pregnant women and other high-risk individuals, the Ministry of Health is also providing them access to the Moderna vaccine.
Doctor Fong says a person only needs to wait 28 days between their first and second dose of Moderna vaccine so this means they can protect those who are at high risk, faster.
He says the data from today tells the same sobering story we have seen since early May.
Doctor Fong says we have an outbreak of severe disease and death among unvaccinated Fijians.
Of the 144 lives we have lost to COVID in this outbreak, none were fully vaccinated. 22 were partially vaccinated, having received only one dose, and the rest had no vaccination.
He says there is no stronger evidence pointing to why we must vaccinate all adults, in particular those who are at greatest risk as quickly as humanly possible.
The Permanent Secretary says it is the best available protection against the worst effects of the virus.
He is asking anyone who is yet to be vaccinated, please do so immediately.
To the younger ones, Doctor Fong says get vaccinated yourselves and please help by bringing your parents, grandparents, and older community members to the nearest vaccination centre or drive-through and give them the best possible protection against this virus.
He says to allow workplaces to reopen without crushing the capacity of their healthcare system, employees must be vaccinated.
Doctor Fong says social welfare recipients must be vaccinated as well.
He says even if the government has not mandated it for you, it is a mandate you should make for yourself.
Doctor Fong says it only takes one look at our rising numbers of fatalities to see there simply is no morally or medically acceptable alternative.
He says sadly, many social media companies, like Facebook, provide the platform for lies and misinformation about vaccines to spread far faster than facts.
Doctor Fong says it is up to us to get the truth about vaccines and the proven protection they provide into the public domain and in front of those who need to hear that message most of all.
He further says on the meantime, thet are continuing to target lockdowns in extremely high-risk areas.
Doctor Fong says they are continuing to enforce the wearing of masks and the maintenance of physical distance.
He is urging Fijians to stay home unless they have an essential reason to leave.
Follow the rules, and be vaccinated when you have the chance.
Fiji has a target of fully vaccinating at least 80 percent of all eligible adults by the end of October.
Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says as an independent civil servant, he finds it very disheartening that some people, including media organisations, have sought to undermine the obvious and essential step at one of the field hospital locations to treat COVID-positive patients.
Doctor Fong says many people’s lives have been saved in those temporary facilities and they will continue to rely on their use until more Fijians are vaccinated and, as a direct result, the risks of severe disease and death due to COVID in Fiji are much lower.
He says there is a video circulating online from within one of the field hospital locations.
Doctor Fong stresses that facility was erected for the purposes of bolstering their treatment capacity, and its conditions are exactly the same as field hospitals they have relied upon in past emergency situations, such as cyclones and other disasters.
He says we are now in the midst of a wave of COVID-19 infections and, like most countries around the world, they have had to rapidly expand the health facilities by using these tents to care for COVID-19 patients and to ensure that all those who need beds and access to ventilators can have it.
Doctor Fong says even in developed countries, similar measures have been taken.
He says we have 317 new recoveries, with over 4,550 recoveries from the virus in total.
Doctor Fong says recovery is possible and in fact, most patients will recover.
He says the sooner those most at-risk are identified and treated, the more likely they will be able to recover as well.
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