15 Sep 2021

Villagers in Fiji's remote islands seek clarity on Covid-19 restrictions

10:10 am on 15 September 2021

Villagers in Fiji's remote islands are prevented from getting to their vegetable gardens and fishing grounds because of Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the health ministry.

Fijians have been urged to plant to feed their families amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fijians have been urged to plant to feed their families amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Fiji govt

More than 700 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Kadavu, Beqa, Macuata, Malolo and Naviti.

The Fiji Council of Social Services', Vani Catanasiga, said villagers in the remote islands claim the restrictions stop them from leaving their homes.

She said the locals had sought clarity from the authorities over the restrictions, with some villagers claiming they are not aware of the measures.

Catanasiga said while the ministry is focussed on the health aspect of the pandemic, "it also needs to ensure that its message reaches all the communities."

"The ministry is fully concentrating on the health aspect of the pandemic but the information that needs to be relayed to the communities is not consistently moving across all the villages.

Fiji's Council of Social Services is calling on the Government to ensure all communication is relayed and received well in these remote communities.

"The Government is telling us that there's room for moving around but in the communities, they are telling us that they are unable to get to our gardens, fishing grounds, that food supplies are running low.

"So we're telling the Government, this is what you're saying but on the ground people are not able to do this. There's huge miscommunication here, there's some disconnect."

Tackling miscommunication

The Commissioner Eastern's Office, the government administrator on Kadavu, said villagers are allowed to move around as long as they inform officials in the area of the reason for their travel, if it's outside the village.

Catanasiga said they continue to use the daily observation reports from their staff on the ground to address the "miscommunication that has often occurred in communities on government directives on movements within areas of interest or lockdown areas.

"These have often related to going to plantations and to the sea/rivers for food gathering etc.

"FCOSS has found that tapping on the existing relationship we have with the divisional commissioners often gets us the clarity that communities could use for continued access to services and basic needs, particularly if their movements are restricted due to Covid 19."


.. Photo: Supplied

The council is also concerned at the rate of Covid-19 cases in the remote communities.

Catanasiga said they hope the infection rates drop, given there are no reports from council staff on vaccine hesitancy across these communities

Food concerns

She said their concern is food security and communication networks.

"Last week, we sent boxes of PPEs with a phone so we are realising that communication is needed as well."

She said villagers raised issues on access to their plantations and qoliqoli areas to be able to feed their families as well as with communications saying that Vodafone services had been down for two weeks.

"The Commissioner Eastern's office had responded to that last week clarifying that for welfare purposes and support, movement is allowed within the village boundaries, plantation and qoliqoli areas. And any other support could be requested to the Provincial Administrator's Office in Vunisea and the Roko Tui," Catani

"We have been informed that a Vodafone tech team had been sent to Kadavu to look into the comms issues."

Meanwhile, the health ministry confirmed 127 new cases and three deaths on Monday.

More than 300 of the latest cases are from the remote islands, with 303 active cases on Kadavu alone.

Fiji now has a total of 12,925 active cases in isolation, with the death toll at 538 - 536 of these from the outbreak that began in April.

Vani Catanasiga.

Vani Catanasiga. Photo: Supplied/FCOSS

Catanasiga said teams from the health ministry have been deployed to the remote islands.

"A few of our community observation reports have confirmed this saying medical teams, including those doing vaccinations are mobile and moving village to village."

As of 12 September, 569,958 adults in Fiji have received their first dose of the vaccine and 342,191 have got both jabs, the government said.

"This means that 97.2 of the target population have received at least one dose and 58.3 are now fully-vaccinated nation-wide."

Catanasiga said volunteers from the Lautoka District Council of Social Services (DCOSS) are part of the government team deployed to Naviti and will stop over at Malolo.

"So we are hoping for some updates from these volunteers about the situation on the ground there. As far as we know, NGOs are not on the islands as yet - so the community-based organisations such as youth groups, women's groups are helping where they can."

The travel restrictions have also seen fewer or no presence at all of NGOs on the ground, the child rights organisation Save the Children said.

Chief executive Shairana Ali, said they had been cleared by the authorities to carry out humanitarian work in the central and western divisions where the outbreak is centred.

Ali said they are 'stretched to the limits' in their response efforts on the mainland.

"We have been able to provide grocery packs to families, 1800 families who need the support since April.

"We believe that families in the remote islands are better off food security wise, than those on the mainland, because they have the land to plant, fish etc.

"We have not received any request for assistance from communities in the outer islands but we are working closely with the Council of Social Services who have people on the ground in these areas."

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