Fiji tightens lockdown as covid cases rise in Viti Levu

Suva lockdown
Points in and out of the capital Suva are blocked by police. Image: RNZ/Fiji government

By Lice Movono, RNZ Pacific correspondent in Suva

Fiji’s government has taken the most drastic measures since covid-19 hit the country in March last year.

Most of the country is on lockdown from 8pm tonight to 4am on Monday local time.

This comes amid a new covid-19 case confirmed by the Health Ministry, taking the total number of active cases to 50, with 29 transmitted locally.

The authorities have escalated the measures with no businesses allowed to operate for a 56-hour period.

Containment measures have also been stepped around the capital Suva in a rush to trace the Indian variant of covid-19.

The Health Ministry tonight ordered everyone indoors from 8pm amid concerns the B16-17 variant has spread through the community.

Fiji now has had 117 covid-19 cases, 65 recovered and two deaths reported.

Garment factory employees
The ministry has warned that a 52-year-old woman from Nausori Town who tested positive over the past 48 hours may have exposed 887 garment factory employees to the virus.

Parallel to that, Health Secretary Dr James Fong told a media conference there were concerns of a further spread of covid-19 from a returning Fiji citizen who had tested negative before interacting with quarantine personnel before travelling extensively through Suva.

Dr Fong said the man had been cleared of the virus but was recalled to quarantine following fears he may have contracted the virus from soldiers at the facility who had fraternised with others while in isolation.

Meanwhile, Dr Fong confirmed a new case – she is the wife of a man from the province of Ra which is now also on lockdown.

The source of this couple’s infection is not yet linked to current cases which began when a soldier at a quarantine facility contracted the virus between April 10-12 from two Fijians who returned from India.

While announcing the lockdown, Dr Fong said the measures were escalated after they tested more than 1000 Fijians overnight and found another positive person.

“We have some urgent developments to cover that require immediate changes to our containment strategy,” Dr Fong said.

Contact tracing full-swing
“Our contact tracing stemming from case number 113 — the garment factory worker – is in full-swing. There are two factories we are focused on.”

Health checks in Fiji
Health checks are ongoing in Fiji in an effort to combat covid-19. Image: RNZ/Fiji government

Dr Fong said one of the factories is Lyndhurst, the factory in which the woman worked. The other is the Mark One Apparel factory.

“Employees at these factories travel to and from work on the same company-provided transportation, so we are treating both of these factories as potential source points of further transmission.”

Following an overnight screening effort, the government still needed to test hundreds of factory employees.

Dr Fong said there was no more time to waste in locating the rest of those exposed in the factories and so asides from emergency medical trips, no movement was allowed.

“To allow my teams to find these Fijians quickly, we will be locking down the Suva and Nausori Containment zones from 2000 hours tonight until 0400 hours Monday morning.

No one should leave home
“No one should leave their homes. I’ll say that again, within the lockdown zone, no one, not parents, not breadwinners, not children, no one should leave their homes.

“The police will be enforcing that movement restriction.”

Given it’s short notice of the lockdown, announced with only 30 minutes before it was enforced, the government organised food packs to be delivered to those who needed it.

“If you live in the lockdown area and need to access this emergency food supply, you can call toll-free number 161 from 9am tomorrow morning. Please be patient, your calls will be answered.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has since sent specimens to Melbourne to determine the origin of the cluster in the Ra province it has not been able to link to the B16-17 cluster.

The ministry said it would review the lockdown on Sunday.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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