I’d like to thank the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services Ms Bernadette Welch, Dr Wendy Snowdon of the World Health Organisation, and Fiji’s Chief Medical Adviser, Dr Jemesa Tudravu, for joining me.
As of today, 14 February 2020, there are zero confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus –– now officially designated by the World Health Organisation as COVID-19 –– in Fiji.
Meanwhile, we’ve continued to closely monitor the fast-moving spread of the virus around the world, and doubled-down on our own monitoring and prevention efforts here in Fiji as the number of global cases continues to rise.
We have worked diligently to test every single possible case of COVID-19 in Fiji, sending samples to Australia whenever there has been the slightest symptom or suspicion of the virus. To date, every test has come back negative.
Fijian borders are closed to all foreign nationals who have been present in mainland China within two weeks of their intended travel to Fiji. Our borders will remain closed as we constantly assess the situation on the ground. Pre-screening measures remain in place to prevent any infected persons from transiting to Fiji.
Had we totally shut down the country — as some called for — our nationwide preparation and prevention efforts would have been nearly impossible to undertake.
Our health experts –– led by our Minister for Health and Medical Services and the highly-qualified team of experts joining me today –– have ensured that every passenger entering the country, whether by plane or ship, is screened for the virus the moment they first step in the country.
Let me be clear: Reports implying anything but this reality are irresponsible. This is an issue of public health and the media must respect the facts and provide full context in all of their reporting. Recently, the Fiji Times ran a story about cruise ship passengers in Suva, implying that they had not been adequately screened before entering the country. That was totally false; those passengers were vetted and screened at their port-of-entry in Lautoka. This is exactly the sort of fake, fear-mongering news that cannot be tolerated, particularly on an issue that relates so directly to the health and wellbeing of our people.
We will continue our stringent screening practices. And, just as was the case during the measles outbreak, the Ministry will continue to provide accurate and timely information to the public, and will inform you as soon as possible if and when Fiji has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
It’s important to note that Fiji is now entering normal flu season, and influenza shares many of the same symptoms as COVID-19. The best course of action is to treat this flu season with increased caution; wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose as you cough and sneeze, do not share communal takis and bilos, and avoid contact with those showing symptoms.
Stricter border controls, as well as travel disruptions around the world, are already having an impact on visitor arrivals and the global economy as a whole. The potential for further economic implications is substantial; for comparison, in 2003, the SARS virus was projected to have shaved as much as $100 billion US-dollars off the global economy. The coronavirus is expected to be much worse, and the World Bank has warned that least-developed countries will likely be hit the hardest by this crisis.
I want to assure our tourism operators that we will normalise travel restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so. Meanwhile, we must continue to put the health and safety of the Fijian people first.
Finally, if you or anyone you are in close contact with have been to mainland China in the last 14 days and develop any of the symptoms, fever, cough or difficulty breathing, immediately contact the Ministry on one of these numbers. If you need to see a doctor, don’t forget to call ahead before visiting to reduce the risk of infecting others.
Numbers to call: Central – 2219-905; Eastern – 2219-906; Western – 2219-907; Northern – 2219-908.
I’d like to thank the WHO and our national carrier, Fiji Airways, for working with us to help keep our people safe.