16 Apr 2020

Fiji declares second State of Natural Disaster as Covid-19 cases increase

9:43 pm on 16 April 2020

Fiji's government has declared the country's second State of Natural Disaster in a week, following the country's 17th confirmed case of Covid-19.

On Monday the government declared a separate State of Natural Disaster to deal with the destruction caused by last week's Cyclone Harold.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. Photo: Supplied/Fiji govt

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the latest declaration came as a 21-year-old man in Vanua Levu tested positive to Covid-19.

Mr Bainimarama also announced the lockdown in Suva will be lifted on Friday after the number of people screened in the capital reached more than 200,000.

But he said all other restrictions remained in force.

"We remain in a state of natural disaster from Cyclone Harold."

"Today, we are declaring another state of natural disaster in response to the coronavirus threat, because it is clear we need to bring every resource in government to bear to take on the crises of contagion and climate change before us."

Mr Bainimarama said since the young man's return to Fiji, he did not show symptoms of the virus.

He said the man had been in self-quarantine for two full weeks, up until 5 April.

Mr Bainimarama said the government had widened its testing to all close contacts of every confirmed case regardless of whether they were displaying symptoms.

"That's how we identified, tested and confirmed this gentleman as our 17th case."

"He was immediately entered into isolation upon testing positive where he is in stable condition. His close contacts have been entered into separate isolation facilities," the prime minister said.

Quarantine measures extended

The government also moved to extend its quarantine period from 14 days to 28 days.

Mr Bainimarama said this included anyone newly-quarantined and to those who were waiting out their initial 14-day period.

"If you are on day seven of your quarantine you will remain in quarantine for 21 more days," he said.

He said anyone whose quarantine has ended will not go back into quarantine, but they would continue to be monitored by the Ministry of Health until they met the full 28-day threshold.

"Our contact tracing stemming from this latest case has revealed the need for additional lockdowns on Vanua Levu. The Vunicagi Settlement between Nabowalu and Labasa will be locked down for the next 28 days.

"The settlement lies along a short stretch of vital highway which vehicles will still be allowed to traverse under 24/7 police monitoring, as no alternate routes into Labasa exist. However, no passengers will be allowed to disembark or embark: No one in and no one out," the prime minister stated.

The lockdown of the Soasoa settlement was also being extended another 14 days.

"Given the continued risk of transmission on Vanua Levu, our ban on inter-island travel by air and sea will remain in effect. "

In the most ambitious public health screening campaigns in Fiji's history, Mr Bainimarama said about 200,000 people were screened in Suva and combined with other screenings in towns and in Lautoka - more than 300,000 people had been screened.

The prime minister said the government would expand the screening to Nadi, Ba, Tavua, Rakiraki, Labasa, Savusavu, Sigatoka and Korovou.

"The progress of our screening and contact tracing has kept us on track to lift the lockdown of the Suva confined area by 5am tomorrow. The Nabua settlement however - the site of two of our coronavirus cases - is still a high-risk region. Given how long this virus has proven it can stay dormant, the Nabua settlement will remain locked down for an additional 14 days."

"Even though the Suva lockdown is lifting, every other life-saving directive in place will remain in place. The nationwide curfew remains in effect," he said.

This meant nightclubs, gyms, cinemas and pools remained closed and public gatherings were not permitted.

Physical distancing of two metres was also recommended at all times.

"The end of the lockdown is not cause for celebration. It is not a reason to have large grog sessions or drinking parties. It is not a justification to stay out past 8pm. It is not an excuse to leave your homes for no good reason."

Schools were originally scheduled to open next Monday but Mr Bainimarama said they would not open until 15 June.

He assured the country the Ministry of Education would continue to ensure that learning materials were distributed for at-home schooling and technology would be utilised.

Fever clinics stay busy

Meanwhile the prime minister urged those visiting the fever clinic teams to provide accurate information so any spread of the virus could be prevented.

Almost 6,000 screenings had been completed at the 37 fever clinics across the country since on 5 April.

Mr Bainimarama said Fiji remained on the "highest level of alert" in response to the global pandemic.

"We know that finding cases early and isolating them quickly is key to containing this disease.

"As the symptoms of Covid-19 are similar to many other respiratory illnesses (including the common cold and influenza) it is expected that the ministry will continue to investigate more persons with relevant travel history and symptoms related to the disease."

Earlier, Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete said the mobile fever clinics would be rolled out to other parts of the country.

Mr Waqainabete said given the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, the ministry aimed to test as many people as possible.

He said once the lockdown in Suva was lifted, the clinics would begin in Nausori, Rewa and Tailevu.

Health Minister, Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete

Health Minister, Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete Photo: Fiji Govt

Frank Bainimarama said the government's virus response was now focussed on three main clusters in the country: the Nabua settlement in the capital Suva, another settlement in the north and those under supervised quarantine in Nadi.

He said 252 Fijians returned home from abroad and are being monitored in a government facility.

"Of our 649 tests to date, our total confirmed cases continue to stand at 17 and all these patients are in a stable condition."

He said 46 tests were carried out over the Easter weekend and returned negative.

Evacuation flights confirmed

Meanwhile, Fijians caught in the lockdown in New Zealand and New Zealanders stranded in Fiji could now return home following Fiji Airways' announcement it would operate evacuation flights to Auckland and Nadi.

The airline said the repatriation flights would be operated on Friday.

Fiji Airways said passengers holding unused tickets between Nadi and Auckland could book themselves on the evacuation flights at no additional costs.

The government said those arriving in Nadi would be taken to a quarantine facility and monitored for 28 days.

A Fiji Airways plane

A Fiji Airways plane Photo: Supplied