23 Aug 2021

Fiji opens up a little as cases spread East

2:12 pm on 23 August 2021

Fiji is easing up on its restriction of movement on Monday as the government announced new curfew hours to reflect improvements in its Covid-19 vaccine delivery.

Beginning on Monday, curfew hours move to start an hour later, from 7pm to 4am, its first change since the second outbreak began mid April.

In his first national address on the pandemic in several weeks, Prime Minister Frank Baninimarama said the 6pm-4am curfew which was instituted on the main island Viti Levu but was 11pm-4am on other islands, would now be 'responsibly eased.'

"As more of Fiji becomes fully vaccinated, we will forge a powerful shield of protection against severe disease and death from Covid-19, and much of what we miss most about our lives can be restored," Bainimarama said.

"This measure has provided necessary protection against non-essential nightly gatherings and assisted enormously with the movement of essential personnel during emergencies."


.. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

Bainimarama said curfew would start at 8pm once the fully vaccinated population is 50 percent, at 9pm when it reaches 60 percent, 10pm at the 70 percent threshold and back to 11pm like the rest of the country once the government is able to fully vaccinate 80 percent of the target population.

He added containment area borders on the main island Viti Levu would be lifted once 60 percent of the target population is reached.

The government reports that 92 percent of the target population of 587,651 have received the first dose of the vaccine while 234,905 are fully vaccinated.

"Just because we plan to shorten the curfew hours does not give anyone a free pass to disregard any of our other health protection measures. Unless announced otherwise, they will all remain in place," Bainimarama said.

Parties a no-no at the moment

Reminding people not to start "party planning" the prime minister said the extra hours of movements must not be at the cost of vigilance but rather be used for essential travel and added they would be rolled back if authorities see widespread violations of Covid-safe practices.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has reported a drop in overall cases to 19,097, the first time in two months since Fiji has reported below 20,000 cases nationwide.

However, cases in the outer islands of Vanua Levu and Kadavu continue to be an area of concern with Kadavu's total cases now at 131.

In its latest report, the MOH reported five new deaths, 20 severe cases and 20 critically ill patients and 303 new infections for the period ending 8am August 22.

Health Secretary James Fong reported that while the Central Division infections were the lowest with only 33 new cases, the western division reported 185 and 85 new cases were from Kadavu.

"The situation in Kadavu Island remains a major concern. The clinical scoping team in Kadavu have begun to put together a clinical response plan that will help to efficiently escalate our response to the expected wave of severe disease and deaths in Kadavu however we do anticipate this to be a challenging exercise," Dr Fong said.

Community surveillance is now being conducted on the island with the key strategy being to identify people vulnerable to severe Covid to provide them with pre-emptive care so as to allow early identification of danger signs "and access to clinical care in a timely manner".

"The Ministry of Health and Medical Services reiterates its call for maritime islanders not to engage in unauthorised travel to and from Viti Levu. All our current protocols to regulate domestic movements must be adhered to in order to prevent spread of the virus beyond Viti Levu. Furthermore, we repeat our call to all village leaders and elders to support our current efforts to protect our maritime islands and to immediately report any suspicious movements into your community."

Despite its capacity to test close to 4000 samples, the MOH reported 1613 tests only for 21 August and said some data was still to come in from labs around the country. However, the daily test positivity rate remains high at 32.8 percent.

"We are currently doing a mop-up exercise of our first dose campaign, which will allow us to specifically target communities with low coverage, and subsequently also correct and update the total eligible population for our current vaccination programme," Dr Fong said.

He added that despite a visible drop in reported new infections, the trend is likely to be an effect of drastically reduced community contact tracing, a "testing policy change" in the capital city area.

"This does not mean that the outbreak is on a downward trend in the Suva-Nausori community. As previously announced by the Permanent Secretary, daily case numbers in Suva-Nausori are currently not being used as an indicator to monitor progress of the outbreak in Suva-Nausori. The Ministry is closely monitoring other indicators such as test positivity, hospitalisations and deaths to track the progress of the outbreak in Suva-Nausori.

"We are seeing increasing cases reported in the Western Division with evidence of widespread community transmission in that division. Deaths per day at a seven-day average in the Western Division now surpass the Central Division."