Bula Vinaka. It’s good to be back with you after my period of home quarantine. 

Our detailed case update for today is being published now.  I want to review the facts of that update with everyone. 

We have confirmed 279 new cases of COVID-19 as of 8am this morning, our highest daily total to-date. 

Out of these cases, 46 are from existing containment zones or quarantine facilities in Nadi:  22 of these from Nawajikuma, 8 are from Tramline, and 16 are close contacts in quarantine facilities. The remaining 233 cases are from the Lami-Nausori Containment Zone, 196 of which are from existing areas of concern –– that means they are either from known clusters or they have a potential link to an existing case. All 279 of these new patients are currently in isolation at home or in a facility. 

Unfortunately, we can confirm four deaths today due to the virus. The first two deaths were announced yesterday as being under investigation to determine if they were caused by COVID-19. The first was a 57-year-old male who was admitted to the CWM Hospital for a pre-existing non-COVID medical condition. He tested positive during his admission. The second was a 66-year-old female who was declared dead on arrival to the emergency department at CWM Hospital. In accordance with protocol, she was swabbed, and tested positive for COVID-19. Their doctors have now confirmed that COVID-19 caused the deaths of both these individuals. 

The third death was a 62-year-old male from Nausori. He was referred to the CWM Hospital yesterday from Nausori Health Centre in severe respiratory distress. He had obvious signs and symptoms of severe COVID-19 and he tested positive later in the day. Despite the efforts of the medical team at CWM Hospital, he died late yesterday afternoon. 

The fourth death is a 77-year-old female who had been admitted at CWM Hospital for a pre-existing non-COVID medical condition. She tested positive during her admission and died today. Her doctors have confirmed that she died due to COVID-19. 

We currently have nine other patients admitted at CWM Hospital with severe cases of COVID-19. One of these patients is a 30-year-old with no pre-existing illness. 

24 days ago we locked down CWM Hospital to protect its vulnerable patient population. These newly admitted COVID cases are exactly why we made that decision. However, that measure came at great cost, as there are specialty health services within CWM Hospital that are no longer fully available to those who need them. This week, an AUSMAT team deployed to Fiji. Their first priority is working with our teams at CWM Hospital to strengthen our infection control protocols so that COVID and non-COVID care are both available to the public. 

We know from extensive evidence, including from Public Health England, that vaccines offer excellent protection against hospitalisation and death from the virus –– including against the Delta variant present in Fiji. The vaccines we have reserved for every Fijian offer at least 92% protection against hospitalisation, which is remarkable. But the vaccine requires two doses to offer that protection –– not one dose, but two doses. And it takes an additional two weeks after the second dose for the full protection from the virus to set in. Of the four confirmed COVID deaths reported today, none were fully-vaccinated against the virus. Three were not vaccinated at all and one had received only one dose of a vaccine. 

That tells us two things: One, this virus is a killer that no Fijian can afford to treat lightly. And two, we must fully-vaccinate all of our adult population as quickly as possible. That means two doses for every eligible Fijian. So, if you have already received one dose, please come forward for dose number two. If you have not had the chance to be vaccinated, we will make that opportunity available to you soon. 

Thanks to our diplomatic efforts –– and the support of India, Australia and New Zealand –– we have enough vaccines on the way for every adult in Fiji. So far, more than 280,000 Fijians have received at least one dose of a vaccine. More than 18, 0000 are already fully-vaccinated. Of the nearly 300,000 people which have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, there are zero –– I repeat, zero –– deaths caused by a COVID-19 vaccine in Fiji. Every report of an adverse event has been thoroughly investigated. No serious ill effects have been linked to the vaccine. That is in line with the global data that shows the risk of such an adverse event is extremely low. Meanwhile, of the 2,479 cases detected in this outbreak, 11 Fijians have died from the virus. I ask everyone to please do the math. This virus is a killer –– the risk that it claims more lives is huge. In contrast, vaccines offer us huge protection. And we need that protection urgently. 

Today, our seven-day rolling average for cases reached 166 per day. Over the past eight days, total caseload has doubled, with most of these cases located in densely populated areas. That means the worst of this outbreak is yet to come. It does not mean we are helpless. We are working hard to vaccinate our people quickly. I’m confident that the day we achieve herd immunity will come. But that cannot happen by today, and it cannot happen by tomorrow. Until we have fully-vaccinated our eligible adult population, full public compliance with our health measures is critical. Not half compliance. Not compliance on some days of the week or only when the Police are watching –– but full compliance. 

You may have seen the new digital map we developed that shows the locations of active COVID-19 cases in Fiji. We will update it daily as a general guide of serious hotspots of transmission. This tool is useful, but don’t let it lull you into complacency just because your community does not lie within a hotspot; every area in Fiji faces some level of risk due to how fast this virus –– and this variant in particular –– can spread. 

When we learned about the 500-plus person funeral that set-off this outbreak in earnest we knew the risk of a large distribution of cases was extremely high. Later we learned that it was the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 that was present in Fiji. Now, a growing body of evidence suggests the Delta variant is the most contagious variant circulating anywhere in the world. So, regardless of whether or not your community falls within an area of concern on our new heat-map, we should all operate on high-alert to protect ourselves from infection. Wear your masks, keep a safe distance of two metres from others, wash your hands, make sure you have the careFIJI app installed, and when it is your turn, come forward to be vaccinated. That advice may sound routine to some of you. But I won’t stop reinforcing those good habits until they are adopted more consistently by more of our people. 

Among the new cases confirmed yesterday, we detected two cases of unknown origin in Lautoka. We have not linked these cases –– which are a mother and her daughter –– to any known clusters. Both patients have been securely moved into an isolation facility in Nadi. Thanks to our contact tracing investigations through the careFIJI app, which both patients used regularly, we have identified 47 contacts. No areas in Lautoka have been entered under containment protocol as of now. 

We also have confirmed 75 cases in Qauia in Lami in the 24 hours to 8am this morning, with more testing positive throughout today. We have instituted a targeted containment programme for the community. This is not the first time we’ve instituted a targeted containment ––– we’ve relied on this tool many times through this outbreak and we have learned some important lessons about how we achieve success against this highly transmissible variant, particularly in how we limit transmission within containment zones. 

I want to speak directly to the families living in Qauia and other informal settlements that are under containment protocols –– areas that have repeatedly been ravaged by mass transmission at great cost to families and the capacity of our healthcare system. 

We know it doesn’t always feel like leaving home when you are still within your community but you must do your utmost to protect your bubbles and stay within your houses. Many in your communities –– including the elderly and those living with underlying health conditions, even some young people –– could be killed by the virus. We have to protect these Fijians. That is our mission. Please make it yours as well. 

As soon as you step through the doors of your houses, you are at-risk of becoming infected. So please, wear a mask or face covering. Do not gather with others. The people who share your home are the only people with whom you should share close contact. In everything you do, you must respect the rules we’ve put in place to protect you. We can’t send authorities into every community every hour of the day to enforce those rules to the letter. That responsibility rests with you. And we will play our role. We will make sure you are provided with groceries and household essentials. We will do our best to accommodate positive patients within isolation facilities as we know that maintaining home isolation can be difficult for many of you. We will do our part and you must do yours as well. Your health, the health of those you love, are in your hands. None of us face easy choices in this outbreak. But we obviously have to avoid any unnecessary loss of life. Your compliance is key to saving lives, not only in your families and in communities, but across the country. We’re counting on you and every Fijian to adopt COVID-safe behaviour, maintain that discipline and, when it is your turn, to be vaccinated. 

For those who do not reside in targeted containment areas, some people have asked me about the rules regarding outdoor exercise. As the Fiji Police clarified this week, outdoor exercise is allowed so long as you wear a mask and only interact with members of your own household. We can’t risk contact sports. We can’t risk any activity that puts people in close contact with others. But we know that physical fitness is vitally important to keep ourselves healthy. So we encourage people to exercise responsibly with their masks on and within the confines of their bubbles, as I know many of you already are. 

Like many of you, I also saw the footage of that brawl in Jittu Estate in Suva. Like many of you, I was also deeply disturbed. There were no winners of that fight except for the virus itself. These outbursts of violence are never acceptable and they have never posed a greater risk to the wellbeing of our people than today. If even one of the dozens involved in the altercation was carrying the virus, every member of that community was placed at risk, the officers involved in breaking up the fight were put at risk, as were their colleagues and members of their families. 

We initiated a local repatriation program to allow Fijians in red zones, such as Suva, to return to where they reside. This programme involves a series of pre-departure protocols that include 14 days of quarantine and repeated testing. We’ve already identified one positive case in a family that was seeking to travel off of Viti Levu. That family has since been entered into isolation. Thank God we caught that case. All it takes is one COVID-positive individual to ignite an outbreak outside of Viti Levu –– a possibility we have to avoid at all costs. I know we have many families awaiting the chance to return home, but I hope this case goes to show how serious the risks are. We need your patience. We want you to be able to return to your homes but that travel has to be managed safely and carefully, one test and one day at a time. 

Ladies and gentlemen, globally, the expert consensus is that COVID-19 is likely to become an endemic disease – one which continues to circulate indefinitely. It is too early to say if that will be the case in Fiji. Regardless, our strategy remains the same. We have to help people navigate the risks of the virus and protect its worst outcomes of severe disease and death until more of our population can be immunised against the virus. Vaccinations provide a layer of protection that will allow for the gradual rollback of health restrictions, but some COVID-safe measures will become a way of life for all people to protect lives and livelihoods in Fiji and around the world. The sooner we make those important adjustments as a society the safer we will all be over the long-term. We need to be able to move for essential purposes without moving the virus with us. We must protect lives and livelihoods and be able to operate our economy in well-managed COVID-safe ways. We all want life to look more familiar than it does today. Today, we need your compliance and your commitment to be vaccinated so that tomorrow we can reclaim the lives we knew. Keep the faith. That future will come. The sooner we walk towards it together, the sooner it can arrive for all of us. 

Thank you. Dr Aalisha will now walk us through the specifics of today’s case update, then we will take some questions.