6 May 2021

Fiji residents query food programme snub

6:54 am on 6 May 2021

Residents in Fiji's western division have been told they were not included in the government's food distribution programme because the area was not under the snap-lockdown imposed from Saturday to Monday.

Suva and surrounding towns Nasinu and Nausori were shut down due to a surge in Covid-19 cases in the community.

Food rations continue to be delivered to the containment areas.

Food rations continue to be delivered to the containment areas. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

Responding to queries from the public, the Health Ministry said the food distribution programme was due to restrictions in these containment areas - "lockdown meant no supermarkets open, that's the reason why".

Concerns raised included the ministry's food hotline and the difficulties many people were facing in feeding their families.

Health Secretary James Fong said many people did not understand the reason for the food programme.

"The reason we did the food distribution programme was because of the lockdown because basic food items were going to be inaccessible - that's why we did it.

"It's not a means to reach poverty or not a poverty alleviation programme, it's a lockdown programme.

"The issue is a separate one, as it requires a broader set of strategies that are not within the ambit of the Ministry of Health."

Meanwhile, the government said it planned to spend up to $US3 million to assist thousands of households in the country's six containment areas across the main island, Viti Levu.

These include Suva and Lautoka cities, as well as Nausori, Lami, Rakiraki and Nadi towns.

Economy minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said those living outside of the containment zones who could not go to work because of the restrictions could apply for the assistance.

He said successful applicants would receive two lots of $US22 - which amounts to a full payment of $US44.12 - as grocery payment.

No double-dipping would be allowed and only one person per household should apply for the $44.12, he said.

Sayed-Khaiyum said the cash assistance is anticipated to roll out from tomorrow.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

'Lockdowns unnecessary' if all vaccinate: Fong

Earlier the Health Ministry said lockdowns would become unnecessary if all Fijians were vaccinated against Covid-19.

Fong said the day the government was able to roll out the vaccines across the country was the day lockdowns like those endured in Suva, became all but unnecessary.

He urged Fijians to register online and "help take Fiji into the post pandemic future".

Getting one dose of the vaccine did not fully protect a person, Fong reiterated.

"I'll remind everyone, getting one dose does not mean you are vaccinated, it only takes two on a 10 to 12-week timeline.

"No one in Fiji is fully vaccinated. All of us must practise strict adherence to our health protection measures until such time that we achieve the full immunity of our eligible population."

There was a recent surge in the number of people choosing to get vaccinated, Fong said.

"Right now, the vaccine, in all the places that we've put it, the amount of people that are going for it is huge.

"People have come to understand that it is a useful part in the post-pandemic world and we all want to be part of the post pandemic world."

Meanwhile, 98 contacts of the two doctors who tested positive to Covid-19 have been identified.

Fong said an immediate and intensive contact tracing exercise was underway.

He said they are quite sure one doctor had passed the virus to the other.

"But individually, they both came into contact with many others. So far, 98 have been identified, many of them - unsurprisingly - are their colleagues who work at Lautoka Hospital.

"As per protocol, these Fijians must be entered into two weeks of quarantine. This has seriously affected our staffing capacity, particularly for medical and surgical services.

"We have re-deployed staff from other facilities to cover these gaps, but needless to say, it will be a very demanding two weeks of shifts for the staff at the Lautoka Hospital. Still, we are confident we can manage."

There was no new case of the virus reported overnight although there remained 44 active cases.

Covid-19 screening and testing underway in  Fiji.

Covid-19 screening and testing underway in Fiji. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

Hospital shutdown considered

The Health Ministry is considering closing down the Lautoka Hospital for quarantine if the covid containment efforts surrounding the two doctors, who recently tested positive for the virus, warranted it.

But Fong said officials still needed to get more information before a decision was made.

It's possible the authorities may have to extend the lockdown in Lautoka City, he said.

He said it's also possible the ministry may have to deal with Lautoka Hospital in a more stringent measure, but "everything is based on the information we're getting".

Fong said 98 contacts and informants who were forthcoming with information had been of immense help to the ministry's contact tracing efforts.

This could also reduce the chances of a lockdown for the divisional hospital, he added.

"We're talking about some very good informants who had their careFIJI app on so we might be able to target our lockdown more clearly only in the context of them and not have to close the service.

"But, if we have to shut Lautoka Hospital, it will be done."

Fong said contingency plans were already in place should the Lautoka Hospital close down operations for quarantine.

Sigatoka and Rakiraki hospitals have both served as divisional hospitals in the past, he said, so "it's within the ministry's means to be able to provide back-up if we have to close Lautoka".

Meanwhile, Fong said while staffing capacity at the Lautoka Hospital had been seriously affected, especially for medical and surgical services, the ministry was confident it could manage the hospital as staff members from other facilities had been deployed to fill the gaps.

Many medical staff members were quarantined after they were identified as part of the 98 contacts of the two doctors, he said.

"But, needless to say, it will be a very demanding two weeks of shifts for the staff at Lautoka Hospital."

Fong said some of the other contacts were patients who had already been identified, swabbed and entered into quarantine.

He said neither of the doctors had been directly linked to other existing cases of Covid-19.

But investigations are ongoing, the health secretary said.

Fiji has had 121 Covid-19 cases, 44 active, 75 recovered and two deaths reported since the country's first case on march 19, 2020.


.. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt