Compliance not lockdowns will help Fiji out of the alarming outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 which has already claimed 11 lives and infected another 587 over the last two days.
The country's Permanent Secretary for Health, James Fong said current restrictions are what would constitute a lockdown in other countries but reiterated a complete lockdown of the infected central eastern division or even the main island Viti Levu just "can't work here."
"The tragic reality is that Fijians living in communities most vulnerable to the virus -- including those in informal settlements -- are also those most vulnerable to the socioeconomic catastrophe that a 24-hour lockdown for 28 days would bring about."
"So to say that many other countries have done a strict lockdown is not correct. Few, if any countries, have locked down in the same manner that Fiji has locked down."
The Fijian government has since the outbreak of mid April occured, restricted movement for essential purposes only and instituted a curfew from 6pm until until 4am every day for affected areas. People can move for only three reasons, to source food, obtain medicine and for authorised work. Meanwhile the list of workplaces which can operate increases daily.
"And in many other places in the world, measures similar to those have worked well to reduce the spread of the virus. Why has it worked? Two words: Public compliance," Dr Fong said.
When asked by Fijian media why a lockdown had not yet been instituted despite widespread calls for it, Dr Fong said it was not within his mandate as the head of the Ministry of Health to enforce it.
When asked if he had made the recommendation to the Prime Minister, he said the current measures were a government response to his advice. He was not explicit about what that advice was.
"I think the long and short I can say to that I can answer if we have given the advice that we need to give and the outcome of the response is based on how the advice was taken. But we have given the advice that we need to give."
Last night Dr Fong said the Ministry of Health (MOH) had not advised the government to enforce a 24-hour curfew for 28 days for Viti Levu.
"If I believed there was a medical case to be made for a 24-hour curfew for 28 days for all of Viti Levu, I'd advise the Prime Minister directly. I have not done that because, medically, we do not believe a 24-hour curfew for 28 straight days would work."
Further, the health head said given "track record" of poor public compliance within the Fijian community there was no guarantee there would be compliance to more restrictions and explained the government "simply do not have the capacity to enforce such a strict lockdown" everywhere on Viti Levu.
In September, the Fiji Police Force Chief of Operations Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Abdul Khan said there were more than 4,000 officers in Fiji's main law enforcement agency as another 259 were recruited.
ACP Khan said increased budgetary allocations would enable the force to increase its strength.
Dr Fong said there were no easy choices but that there were smarter choices and fof Fijian health authorities that meant dedicating personnel where the risks are greatest.
While current restrictions continue, he warned "if that freedom is abused, the virus will spread. If the rules are respected, we believe transmission can be reduced dramatically. Respect the rules, we win. Ignore them, we all lose -- big time."
Meanwhile, Fiji's case count for this outbreak alone has surpassed New Zealand's total cases with 2778 people now isolated in their own homes or at Fijian government medical facilities.
There have been 2848 cases since Fiji's first case in March 2020 while 653 have recovered.