SODELPA Leader Viliame Gavoka is urging the Government to remain alert and exercise extreme caution after the World Health Organisation classified Omicron as a variant of concern.
The Omicron variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Wednesday.
He says Fiji is expected to open its borders from this Wednesday, however, reports of this new variant as classified by the WHO is a grave concern.
Gavoka says foreign media have reported that Omicron has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Israel.
He further says scientists in Sydney are working quickly to establish whether Omicron is already in Sydney after two arrivals from southern Africa tested positive to COVID.
He adds its prudent that the Government stands ready to review its border restrictions, quarantine protocols and health measures, particularly now, when there are probable cases emerging in more countries.
The SODELPA Leader says WHO says this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning adding that preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern.
He says as an outcome, most major countries have now imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa, to try and contain Omicron.
Gavoka says SODELPA thanks frontliners that have been working tirelessly for the health of Fiji and preparations being carried out for December 1st.
He says while they recognise the need for Fiji to rebuild its economy, SODELPA stresses extreme caution and that the health and well-being of the Fijian people should always remain paramount.
The Fijian Government says it has strengthened its strict conditions for entry for incoming travellers from red list countries in response to the newly-reported Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says they are monitoring the Omicron variant closely as it has been shown to carry significant mutations that could spell higher rates of transmissibility and virulence.
Doctor 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 the most important step every Fijian can take in response to this variant is to become fully vaccinated and encourage others around us to do the same.
Doctor Fong says we have one of the highest rates of vaccine coverage in the world but Fiji is safest when we achieve as close to 100 percent coverage as possible, and we must continue to adhere closely to the other health protection measures we know can limit the spread, including good handwashing, mask wearing and physical distancing.
He says the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is currently establishing genomic sequencing capacity within the Fiji Centre for Disease Control to process any positive samples of concern.
Doctor Fong also says the Ministry is currently administering booster doses to front line health officials and will soon deploy booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable members of the public.
Doctor Fong says the process of risk assessment for our red list and Travel Partner Countries was developed with the knowledge that new variants of the virus were highly likely to be detected.
He says it analyses factors such as country vaccine coverage and rates of community transmission.
Doctor Fong says they will continue to rely on that assessment process moving forward.
For Fijians located in red list countries, which have always included the Southern African States, the measures for incoming travellers are that travellers must be fully vaccinated with one of Fiji’s approved vaccines; travellers must undergo escalated pre-departure protocols, which include self-isolation for the five days prior to travel under the oversight of the employer or sponsor and test negative on day 5 and within 72 hours prior to departure; and on arrival to Fiji, the quarantine period for travellers from red list countries will increase to 14 days with a PCR test done on arrival on day 5 and on day 12.
Doctor Fong says the Fijian Government will maintain the entry conditions for tourism arrivals from Travel Partner Countries, which include requirements such as full vaccination with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken 72 hours prior to departure, a 2-night stay in a Care-Fiji Certified hotel, and an additional COVID-19 test on Day 2 after arrival.
The same conditions apply for returning residents and those visiting friends and relatives, with the exception that they are required to spend three nights after arrival in a Care-Fiji Certified hotel.
He says the preference of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is that travellers from red list countries go to a listed Travel Partner Country for ten days prior to travelling to Fiji. However, he says given some international border restrictions, particularly in Southern Africa, they understand some Fijian citizens and residents may need to book travel directly to Fiji.
Doctor Fong says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will provide advice on a process for the public to help them by providing information on citizens in Southern Africa so those citizens can be registered and assisted to adhere with the strict conditions for entry.
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