Bula. I am recording this message at home where I am under quarantine as a potential primary contact of one of our medical team members who contracted COVID-19.

We say our health teams serve on the “frontline” for a reason. Even when we follow the rules and employ proper PPE, there is always a risk of exposure in the line of duty. I want to thank my teams who are continuing to guard the wellbeing of our people. Their service and sacrifice have never mattered more.

I have tested negative twice now during my quarantine, on day one and day 4, my being at home is simply a precaution. I also want to thank the members of the Department of Information who have helped me record this message without coming into contact with anyone.

We have 35 new cases of COVID-19 to report today. This is the latest update in a record-breaking surge over the last several days, with the majority of cases among known clusters in the Central Division.

After an entire year without a local case of the virus, I know these double-digit daily case numbers are unsettling news for many of you –– they should be. This is a highly transmissible and deadly disease. But there are ways we can protect ourselves. If you are one of those who have not been taking this outbreak seriously –– and I know some of you are listening ––it’s time to stop being careless. I’ve gone over the rules before, I will again: Stay home as much as possible. If you do leave, wear a mask and make sure the careFIJI app is installed on your phone and bluetooth is switched on. Keep a two-metre distance from others. Wash your hands often. Do not share cigarettes. Do not share takis. I love sharing Grog as much as anyone, but it’s time we put that habit on hold. Grog by yourself, mix your own grog and taki to yourself.

If you and your business are already adhering to these good COVID-safe habits, thank you. Please keep them. And if you are using your platform on social media or in everyday life to remind people of the life-or-death importance of respecting our health protocols –– Keep it up. There has never been a higher level of risk in Lami-Nausori Containment Area than today. Everyone needs to know it, and everyone must act accordingly through the good health practices we have advocated from day one of this outbreak.

I also want to be clear: There is nothing reassuring about the low numbers of severe disease and death recorded so far. This is the same variant that has inflicted mass death upon many other nations. It can kill. Do not listen to the false prophets and pseudo-experts who say this disease cannot harm you. They are lying, and they will lead vulnerable Fijians into ICUs and, in worst-case scenarios, an early grave. We shouldn’t have to force anyone to take obvious steps to keep themselves safe and healthy. Don’t wait for more deaths to hone your discipline.

While we will continue to publish the locations of new clusters, no one should base their adherence –– or lack thereof –– based on whether they are near a cluster or in a red zone or in a green zone.  We are dealing with community transmission. That means the exact source of every case is not known. So while we will continue to employ targeted lockdowns, everyone in Fiji must adhere to COVID-safe protocols.

The Central Division is seeing the biggest spikes in case numbers, but if we are not extremely careful we could see severe outbreaks in many other parts of Fiji.

We’ve previously employed mobile screening teams to great effect. But the scale of this outbreak now requires a different approach. We are guided by two objectives: Keep already infectious and potentially infectious people safely away from the public, and provide life-saving care to those who do develop a severe case of COVID-19. We will now be maintaining our stationary screening clinics and saving our mobile teams to do contact tracing, screen areas of concern and deploy to homes that report individuals with COVID-like symptoms. If individuals test positive, they will be placed under home isolation –– with groceries and essential household items provided. If they develop a severe illness, they will be transported to a hospital. So please, if you feel symptoms call us at number 158. Get tested. Get protected with the care you need now. Don’t muck around with your health or the health of your loved ones.

It is important to understand that this move to a mitigation strategy is tailored to the scale of the epidemic. With our partners across all of government, we are ensuring that our response is contending with reality, so that we can protect you –– the Fijian people –– from an evolving outbreak. The mitigation measures will mostly be in the Central Division where containment measures are focused on positive persons and contacts. Fijians in the West, in the North, and everywhere in Fiji must still continue with the COVID-safe measures. It is therefore extremely important that people understand why we need to carefully manage movement from Contained Areas to Uncontained Areas. We sympathise with your need to relocate; we are working hard to develop protocols that can allow you to move without risking further transmission of the virus.

I hope that gives everyone an idea of the short-term epidemic outlook. Longer-term, our path out of this crisis is clear: We have to protect as many Fijians as possible as quickly as possible through safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

That means getting as many jabs in as many arms as we can. More than 225,000 have already received at least one dose. That is an excellent start. But we need to immunise more. And we need everyone who has received dose one to receive their second dose when it is due. That is our best possible defense against a wave of hospitalizations and even deaths that could be headed our way. Please register to be vaccinated. If you register beforehand, you will not spend as much time in the queue when it is your turn to be immunised. That’s our preference; that you register beforehand. But if you do show up without pre-registering, you must come with the right documentation that can verify your identity. The rest of the world is protecting their people through vaccines and reclaiming the lives they knew. These nations are dealing decisive blows against this pandemic. Fiji must join them, we cannot leave ourselves vulnerable. We cannot leave ourselves behind. We cannot leave ourselves stuck with the socioeconomic consequences of this pandemic forever.

When it is your turn to be vaccinated, come forward. I have received the first of my two doses of a vaccine. I did it because it is the safest, most responsible and most patriotic choice we can make for Fiji and for our fellow Fijians. I am looking forward to receiving my second dose, once my quarantine period ends, and becoming fully protected. We’ll let everyone know as soon as they are able to be vaccinated.

Thank you. Stay safe. As always, keep the faith.