21 Mar 2020

Fiji PM urges people not to panic as Lautoka on COVID-19 lockdown

6:36 am on 21 March 2020

Fiji police have erected roadblocks and checkpoints in the country's second largest city, Lautoka, as the government tackles the COVID-19 outbreak.

A police checkpoint at the main crossing to Lautoka City from Natalau.

A police checkpoint at the main crossing to Lautoka City from Natalau. Photo: Supplied

Since Thursday's announcement of Fiji's first coronavirus case - Lautoka, where the patient resides, has been in lockdown.

A resident, Allen Lockington, said people could only leave the city for essential travel.

"They've put up police road-blocks at the extreme ends of Lautoka," he said.

"They are questioning people who are traveling in and out. Some people have been turned back. And there are people who are coming into Lautoka who didn't have a reasonable answer and were turned away."

Mr Lockington said panic was evident in Lautoka's central business district where people had been flocking to the shops to stock up on supplies.

Mr Lockington said movement within the city was not restricted but people were barred from leaving Lautoka except for essential travel.

He said the vegetable markets, even the supermarkets were open although most shelves were empty due to the panic-buying.

In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama called for calm.

Fiji's prime minister Frank Bainimarama, flanked by government officials and ministers, announces the country's first case of Covid-19 coronavirus on Thursday.

Fiji's prime minister Frank Bainimarama, flanked by government officials and ministers, announces the country's first case of Covid-19 coronavirus on Thursday. Photo: Supplied / Fiji government

"There is no sense in running to the market and buying up massive amounts of goods," he said.

"We won't be cutting ourselves out from importing food and other essential items."

Mr Bainimarama said the government would ensure the steady supply of food would continue to be available.

He said the Agriculture Marketing Authority would buy fruits, vegetables and rootcrops from farmers and middlemen outside the city and sell them to the local vendors at the Lautoka markets.

He said fever clinics would be set up in the western division to contain the virus at the local level.

"These clinics will be designed to keep people with fevers away from vulnerbale people who visit health centres," he said.

"We must join the rest of the world in practising what is known as social distancing. It means limiting contact especially in groups as much as possible to prevent person to person transmission of the disease."

He also urged employers to acccommodate the needs of their workers and not make any redundant.

For the rest of the nation it's business as usual, said the prime minister.

Usually brimming with people, the Lautoka Bus Station has been deserted since Thursday.

Usually brimming with people, the Lautoka Bus Station has been deserted since Thursday. Photo: Supplied