‘Don’t blame us,’ says military chief over Fiji’s covid surge

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Commander Viliame Naupoto
Commander Viliame Naupoto ... calling for an apology from opposition MPs over clams against the military. Image: RNZ/Fiji govt

RNZ Pacific

The head of the Fiji’s defence force has rejected claims by opposition MPs in Parliament this week and has called for an apology over the “simply, wrong” allegations.

In a statement, Commander Viliame Naupoto said there was no “factual evidence” to suggest that the defence force had caused the initial breach.

Commander Naupoto said the military was carrying its own investigations.

Health officials have also said medical and military personnel in Fiji who have been infected with covid-19 are not part of the frontline response teams.

The assurance comes amid an escalating number of cases on the main island, Viti Levu, with clusters in both hospitals and the Navy.

Health Secretary Dr James Fong said the frontline public health response teams were conducting surveillance and containment efforts in the communities.

He said the ministry screened and tested its frontline personnel for their safety and the public’s safety because “they come into contact with persons who have been exposed to the virus”.

Risk eliminated
Dr Fong said this also ensured the risk to the public from contact with their trace and containment teams was eliminated.

He said the ministry expected all frontline teams would “carefully observe the covid-safe protocol and we appreciate the feedback we get from the public in this regard”.

“Covid-safe behaviour needs to be maintained by all sections of the community, but especially those in the front line of the public health response and clinical response,” he said.

“At this time, when we have seen an escalation of cases, we wish to remind all frontline workers of the higher level of covid-safe behaviour expected by the community and our profession.

“The same is true for all community leaders and persons in leadership positions in our community in setting an example of a high standard for covid-safe behaviour at all times.”

Dr Fong said last night that 23 of the latest count (28) were linked to existing clusters.

The navy cluster began when an officer contracted the virus at a funeral and later infected members of his ship. This cluster continues to grow with 31 more cases this week alone.

The infected officers were isolated onboard three separate ships anchored in Suva.

Military headquarters locked down
The military headquarters in Suva has been locked down in recent weeks after four soldiers tested positive.

Mingling between personnel at a quarantine facility in April has also been linked to cases.

The army said it was continuing to provide security services for the covid response teams.

It said two separate bubbles were already in place to contain the spread of the virus at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks (QEB).

Concerns were raised by people on social media over members of the defence forces being infected with the virus.

In Parliament yesterday, opposition MPs Lynda Tabuya and Simione Rasova criticised the military over its handling of officers who had breached managed isolation protocols at a government facility in April.

Tabuya claimed the “military officers caused the original breach and Navy officers also breached Covid borders”.

Rasova said “army and navy officers were spreading covid”.

Commander rejects claims
But Commander Naupoto rejected their claims.

He said there was no sharing of cigarettes as mentioned in the earlier press conferences by health officials, adding that one of the soldiers was in his room when the sharing of cigarettes was alleged to have taken place.

He claimed this was proven by CCTV footage.

Commander Naupoto said there was also an allegation that a soldier had come into contact with a repatriated citizen while the officer was carrying out an inspection without wearing any protective clothing, “again this was proven wrong by CCTV footage”.

“The whole border quarantine process is being reviewed by the quarantine experts in the Ministry of Health to plug any gaps that may exist in the current protocols that are being used and there are systemic issues that need to be reviewed.”

Fiji has recorded 536 cases since March 2020, 466 from the current outbreak which began in April while 349 patients remain infected with covid-19.

Four people have died.

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

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