14 Jun 2021

Covid-19: Why Fiji govt will not declare a state of emergency

8:56 am on 14 June 2021

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama continues to resist calls for a complete 28-day lockdown of Viti Levu despite record number of Covid-19 infections.

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.. Photo: Fiji govt

This comes amid the country recording over 150 infections on the weekend.

Bainimarama said shutting down completely would cripple Fiji economically.

The opposition and civil society groups have urged the government to declare a state of emergency amid the escalating number of cases of Covid-19 - over 1000 since April.

On Sunday, Health Secretary James Fong revealed a record 105 new cases.

Almost all - 98 - are linked to existing clusters.

On Saturday he said there were 47 new cases.

The figures mean there are now 796 active cases in isolation in Fiji.

In his first address to the nation since the latest outbreak started in April, Frank Bainimarama said the cases were localised and only restricted to the Central Division.

He said the cases were also occurring in known clusters, most of which are within the lockdown areas.

"So those who now call for 28 days of lockdown misunderstand the virus and disregard what that order would mean for our people.

"Shutting down completely is a drastic measure; one that we cannot completely guarantee would even work."

The prime minister claimed developing countries have never successfully implemented total lockdowns.

"After 28 days of total lockdown we could still see the virus re-emerge on day 30 or day 35 because of a single, undetected lapse by anyone, anywhere on Viti Levu.

"If we took that route, after we spent nearly 700 hours shut in our homes, Fiji would look vastly and cruelly different when we all re-emerged.

"People's jobs may never return. We'd suffer structural unemployment through the permanent loss of industries.

"I cannot allow that to happen and I will not." .

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.. Photo: Fiji govt

Over 100 new cases confirmed

Health Secretary Dr James Fong said of the latest cases confirmed on Sunday, 21 were from the country's main hospital - Colonial War Memorial - in the capital Suva.

Other clusters included the Nawajikuma, Nawaka, Nadi with 16 infections; Muanikoso, Nasinu 15; Waila in Nausori 11; Navy 11; the government's Covid-19 Incident Management Team (IMT) 8; Nasinu Police Barracks 7; Tramline, Nawaka in Nadi 6; Navosai 2 and Kinoya near Suva 1.

Five other cases were from Grantham Road in Suva and two from Tacirua near the capital were under investigation to determine whether they had links to other cases.

A review of cases from Nadi that were reported on Saturday found that one case had tested positive twice, Dr Fong said.

"This case was subsequently counted twice, due to different names for the same person being entered on the forms for each of the samples tested.

"The duplicate record has been removed from the active and total case count."

Fong said two patients admitted at the CWM Hospital for pre-existing severe illnesses had died.

"With the ongoing outbreak at the hospital, both patients tested positive for Covid-19 during their admission.

"However, their doctors have determined that their causes of death are related to the pre-existing illnesses for which they were admitted and receiving treatment for at the hospital.

"These are not Covid-19 caused deaths. The health ministry extends our condolences to the loved ones of the deceased patients."

Dr James Fong and PM Frank Bainimarama.

Dr James Fong and PM Frank Bainimarama. Photo: Fiji govt

Govt criticised over handling of crisis

The government is unable to isolate cases at its facilities, and is now sending positive people home instead.

It announced last week it would focus on caring for severely-ill patients as opposed to its current strategy. It had hinted at this scenario early in this outbreak in the event the public health system was overburdened.

Calls for more action from the government are growing louder, as opposition and civil society groups claim the state appears to be losing their grip on addressing the outbreak in the country.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has called the situation in Fiji concerning, while health authorities there say the "serious developments" are impacting their ability to respond.

Opposition and civil society groups say the escalating number of Covid-19 cases are a clear indication the government is not in control of the crisis.

National Federation Party (NFP) leader Biman Prasad said the government must act now to avoid a disaster.

But Bainimarama said it was easy to call for drastic measures like 28 days of straight lockdown "if you are still in a high-paying job or have a healthy savings account".

"It is easy to call for a lockdown if you do not depend on day-to-day wages or struggle to pay bills for a business that is closed," he said.

"It is easy to call for a lockdown if you don't work at a factory that might permanently leave Fiji if they must shut down completely for 28 days; the garment factories and call centres, that cannot serve overseas clients will lose those contracts - and the jobs they support - forever.

"And businesses, large and small, that thrive because of this economic activity could shut forever as well."

Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva

Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva Photo: The Electives Network

Bainimarama said the government needed to prioritise ordinary Fijians.

"Those factory employees, car mechanics and washers, market vendors, the cash crop farmers, taxi and other public service vehicle drivers, construction workers, wait staff, the micro, small and medium business operators. If they can work safely, if they choose to work safely, they should be able to work safely.

"Because of vaccines and because we now know more about Covid, the world's fight against this virus has changed, and so must our strategy.

"We will get through this current ordeal by an intelligent and targeted application of measures to contain the spread until we get enough of us vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

"We are looking at the long-term picture. And are looking at the experience of other countries, and we believe that if we follow some sensible guidelines designed to keep us from gathering indiscriminately in large groups, we can manage this virus while protecting our health, protecting Fijian jobs and businesses and safeguarding the long-term prospects of our young nation."

Meanwhile, Dr Fong said eight patients have recovered with 796 active cases now in isolation. There have been a total of 1,048 cases since April 2021.

"We have recorded a total of 1,118 cases in Fiji since the first case was reported in March 2020.

"There have been 312 recoveries and four deaths due to Covid-19."

A total of six Covid-positive patients have died from pre-existing, non-covid related illnesses, Fong said.