26 Jan 2022

Covid-19: Schools reopen amid third wave in Fiji

6:18 am on 26 January 2022

Schools in Fiji - closed since April last year - have reopened this week despite a worsening third wave of the coronavirus in the country.

Children under the age of 15 years are not yet eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine.

Children under the age of 15 years are not yet eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Sally Round

Fiji's Government reported on Monday 11 more people had died from Covid-19 including a four-month-old girl and 15-year-old boy.

There are also 987 new cases of the Omicron and Delta variants of Covid-19 in the community.

But the Fijian Cabinet insists it is confident with the Covid-19 protocols in place to protect pupils in 1700 schools across the country.

This includes the remainder of about 35,000 travellers expected in Fiji in the next 10 days.

Minister for Health Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete said Covid-19 was now endemic to Fiji and community transmission would lead to the same in schools.

"They probably have better public health safety measures in the schools than they do in the community," Dr Waqainabete said.

"That is important to understand. School is important for the development of the child, the development of their mental well being.

"We also have to understand that we have a high vaccination rate. I encourage all parents to bring their children forward so that they can be vaccinated and protected.

"It's not only about the herd immunity thing, because what the World Health Organization experts are saying, vaccination is not only about herd immunity, it's about your personal protection."

Fiji's Government reported an average attendance in the first two days of schools reopening this week since April last year.

Premila Kumar, Fiji's Education, Heritage and Arts.

Premila Kumar, Fiji's Education, Heritage and Arts. Photo: Facebook/Fijian Government

Year 8 to 13 students returned to class on Monday with majority of the schools recording a 60 percent turnout on day one.

Fiji's Education Minister Premila Kumar said she can understand why some parents are not sending their children to school amid the third wave of the coronavirus.

But she said most of the schools are in compliance with the Covid-safety protocols.

There are 202 teachers currently Covid-19 positive, Kumar said and many of them were infected prior to the return of school.

Kumar said they have also introduced Covid-19 monitors in schools.

"These are the students who monitor other students' whether they are wearing or following Covid safe measures. Because this is part of awareness-raising as well, these are some of the ways we are monitoring.

"Teachers are trained to handle any child who is not feeling well. They have been trained in handling Covid-related matters, and this training has been provided to the teachers through the Ministry of Health."

Kumar said it was no longer Fijian government protocol to isolate the entire class in instances where a teacher or student tests positive to Covid-19.

Person walks along the road as security officers check cars in Suva, Fiji on 26 April, 2021.

Person walks along the road as security officers check cars in Suva, Fiji on 26 April, 2021. Photo: Leon Lord / AFP

Meanwhile, Fiji's Health Ministry is paying attention to international research indicating potential benefits to vaccinating age groups below 12 years old, Dr Waqainabete said.

But he added it would also prioritise increasing vaccination coverage in the eligible age groups.

"100 Fiji schools in its urban centers, including in the capital Suva are overcrowded with rolls of 50 to 60 students."

Kumar said social distance was not the only measure of effective Covid-19 protocols.

She said the government would instead implement a multi-layered approach which includes installing extra fans in classrooms and training teachers and students to monitor each other.

"I think the media is hung up on two metre distance. If you look at the protocol, we're saying multi layered approach, which means the number of things that can happen in a classroom, right, and in case where we cannot observe two metre distancing, that's where we improve the air circulation," Kumar said.

The minister said the ventilation approach of installing fans, opening doors and windows was global practice and implemented with "the full support of UNICEF, and the WHO."

As of 24 January, Fiji has 2,575 active cases of Covid-19 in isolation with the death toll at 779, the Health Ministry said.

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