21 Apr 2021

Massive house-to-house Covid screening in Fiji amid superspreader fears

9:13 am on 21 April 2021

By Lice Movono in Suva

Massive house-to-house screening in Fiji's western towns is being rolled out amid fears hundreds of people may have picked up Covid-19 at a funeral.

Taraivini Kabuta, Nadi Branch Red Cross volunteer shares a message about COVID-19 transmissions through a window to a family in Uciwai Settlement, Nadi.

Taraivini Kabuta, Nadi Branch Red Cross volunteer shares a message about Covid-19 transmission through a window to a family in Uciwai Settlement, Nadi Photo: Fiji Red Cross

Health authorities have described the weekend rites attended by more than 500 people as a potential superspreader event.

They confirmed three new cases late on Tuesday, two of which were soldiers at a managed isolation quarantine facility (MIQ).

The third case reported is a woman in her 30s who is the daughter of a 53-year-old woman who worked as a maid at the same MIQ.

The maid had contracted the virus from a male soldier who authorities now believe had contracted Covid-19 while handling the baggage of two Fijian nationals who returned from India on 10 April.

The mother daughter pair were involved last Friday and Saturday with funeral rites which took them between Nadi and the Lautoka suburb of Tavakubu, and which exposed at least 500 people to Covid-19.

Calling the funeral a 'potential superspreader event' Fiji's Health Permanent Secretary Dr James Fong said, "Together, these two patients represent the highest-risk cases Fiji has ever contended with.

"Now that we know both the mother and daughter are Covid-positive, the risk that there was of transmission of the virus to the mother's fellow passengers during her travel from the Tavakubu funeral to Nadi on Saturday is high."

"We know there were at least 500 people present at the funeral. The mother was there for a few hours, which is more than long enough to transmit the virus to others. We have directed all those present at the funeral to stay at home for the next two weeks while they await screening from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services."

While the two women have become the central focus of the Ministry of Health's contact tracing activities which have spread across the entire main island of Viti Levu, a lot of the government's success hinges on their ability to locate drivers of vehicles the women and their relatives travelled in.

A typical street scene in Nadi, Fiji

A typical street scene in Nadi, Fiji Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

While health authorities have found some success finding other mourners, it has been difficult to locate the drivers of three mini buses and a grey taxi who transported the women and other relatives back and forth between the two cities between 16 April and 17 April.

"We have yet to confirm it via tests, but we are certain there are more cases out there. So, we are mobilising a massive house-to-house screening effort in the Nadi and Lautoka Containment Area to determine people's travel history, so we know where they have been, and screen for COVID-like symptoms, so we know if they are sick. We will be testing immediately and often. We have the capacity to run 600 COVID tests per day. That is how many tests we plan to run every day for the next two weeks, at least."

Contact tracing app

Meanwhile the heath ministry is continuing to urge people to download its careFIJI app to aid in its contact tracing but it was not clear if authorities have been able to download data from the app.

Customised from the Singaporean government's contact tracing technology, the app was introduced last year but had been met with public scepticism.

"I cannot stress enough how important it is that you enforce physical distancing within your businesses and require that customers have the careFIJI app turned on while they are on your premises."

"CareFIJI is one of the most efficient contact tracing tools we have. If you have careFIJI, and you come into contact with someone who has the virus, we can alert you quickly to keep you and your family safe. The more Fijians have this app downloaded, the more quickly we can flush out the virus and return life to normal," Dr Fong said.

Dr Fong was not able to confirm whether any data had been extracted from the app to aid in current contact tracing but said this was a situation when it would have provided critical support.

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