3 Apr 2020

Fiji confirms two new Covid-19 cases, Suva now in lockdown

8:26 am on 3 April 2020
Suva Harbour the capital of Fiji.

Suva Harbour the capital of Fiji. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

Fiji's sprawling, bustling capital, Suva, went into lockdown this morning tomorrow after two cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the city.

More than 300,000 people will be confined to their homes, and all non-essential businesses will be ordered to close for at least two weeks.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama confirmed the two cases at a news conference, bringing the national total to seven.

The latest cases are a couple who lived at Nabua, a settlement in the city, and the health ministry said contact tracing was underway.

They are a 21 year old woman and her 33 year old husband, both of whom are hairdressers in the city. The couple and their daughter are being held in isolation at Navua Hospital, the government said.

A crowd in Suva, Fiji

Crowds in downtown Suva. The entire city will be locked down for two weeks from tomorrow. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

"It appears that our newest two cases are unrelated to our first five cases. We're actively identifying all of these individuals' close contacts. We've identified a contact who lived at home with these two patients after returning from India as the likeliest transmitter of the virus," Mr Bainimarama said in a pre-prepared speech.

"This person has been placed into isolation in Labasa Hospital, but we cannot comment further until testing confirms this person as the source."

Mr Bainimarma said he was concerned as other members of the community were highly likely to have been infected: the couple both lived in a crowded community, interacting with many of its people. They both worked public-facing jobs at salons in some of the city's busiest shopping centres, Damodar City and FNPF plaza.

"We need to respond as if both individuals were working while showing symptoms, and take assertive action to contain the virus," Mr Bainimarama said.

Meanwhile, health minister Ifereimi Waqainabete said the police would be investigating a leak of the personal details of the patients hours before the official announcement, describing it as a "wicked act" that led to some panic buying in parts of Suva.

Traffic passes through the central business district of Fiji's capital, Suva.

Traffic passes through the central business district of Fiji's capital, Suva. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

The prime minister confirmed that Suva would go into lockdown from 5am on Friday, in a similar fashion to Lautoka, on Viti Levu's west coast, which has been sealed off for two weeks. But that could be longer, the government this morning announced Lautoka's lockdown would be extended to Tuesday.

"I'm confident the vast majority of people watching know we cannot afford to lose the war against this virus. I know most Fijians are following and respecting the rules we've put in place -- but too many still aren't," Mr Bainimarama said.

"This virus is here and it is serious. Anyone, anywhere could be a carrier. If people follow the government's directives, we will lock this virus down and win this war. If people don't, many people will die. It is just that simple."

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

The town of Lautoka, where Fiji's first coronavirus cases were discovered, has been locked down for two weeks now. Photo: Supplied

The entire urban area within Delainavesi Bridge, Queens Road, Sawani junction, and the Rewa River bridge would be sealed off and manned by police and military checkpoints, with no one allowed in or out.

"If you're in the boundary you're in, if you're out of the boundary you're out," said police commission Sitiveni Qiliho. "I can not make it any clearer, you will not cross."

Freight providing essential services would be allowed in, and supermarkets, banks and pharmacies would remain open, Mr Qiliho said.

Benefits and funds for those in the Suva and Lautoka lockdown areas will be released from the country's national provident fund, the attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, said.

Nationwide, the nightime curfew would be extended. Instead of being from 10pm to 5am, it will now begin at 8pm.

The skyline of Fiji's capital, Suva.

The skyline of Fiji's capital, Suva. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana