PS looks to 80% vaccination rate before lifting of restrictions

Dr James Fong. File image

Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Health says he’s looking at an 80% vaccination rate before restrictions on movement, gatherings and workplaces can be further relaxed.

Currently 230,000 people have received their first dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. The earliest to be vaccinated – health and other frontliners in Nadi – are now receiving their second dose.

Dr James Fong says while countries have seen an impact after vaccinating 60-70% of their populations: “We’re aiming for 80% , I think we should aim for 80% and then we can start negotiating and see how we well we can relax some of the measures that we have put in place.”

He says with the emergence of variants, “certain aspects of our journey,… it is very hard to foretell” but that he’s basing the 80% threshold on information on  vaccine efficacy and levels of infectiousness of the virus.

Dr Fong announced 89 new cases this evening and warns that the country  can expect to see daily figures surpass Sunday’s high of 105 new cases.  Fiji currently has 860 active cases in isolation.

More than  160 cases have been linked to a cluster at the CWM hospital which is now a designated COVID-care facility. The precise breakdown of those cases— how many are medical professionals and CWM staff, and how many are patients— was not available tonight, although Dr Fong says he knows more of the COVID diagnoses have been amongst patients.

Request to Australia

Meanwhile Fiji is looking to Australia for assistance to plan for “contingencies” in its COVID response.

It is understood a request has already been made for an Australian Emergency Management Team (AUSMAT) to be deployed to assist the Ministry of Health respond to the COVID crisis. Elsewhere in the Pacific, AUSMAT contingents have assisted Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste health authorities in their COVID-responses.

Dr Fong suggests the AUSMAT contingent could help plan for what happens beyond possible expansion of the current FEMAT field hospital currently set up at the Vodafone Arena in Suva, and as  CWM patients begin to leave the main hospital after 14 days of isolation.

“They will no longer be infectious and they will be able to go home. So that’s going to create another level of contingency space for us,” he says.

CWM, the Incident Management Team warehouse, Ministry of Health headquarters and Lautoka Hospital have all been sites of transmission or ‘clusters’. Dr Fong says in the early stages of the response at CWM there was some problems distinguishing between primary and secondary contacts, and some people deemed ‘secondary contacts’ went home, then had to be called back for quarantining at the hospital.

“But we’ve got that all sorted out now,” he says. “Many times along the way many of us have had missteps that have happened, but we’ve sorted all those   problems now.”

Back on June 1st,  Dr Fong said the first detected case at CWM was a patient from Labasa “who was admitted at CWM six weeks ago. She was swabbed as part of the exit protocol before her scheduled transfer to Labasa Hospital. It is suspected that she caught the virus from either another patient, visitor or staff during her admission at CWM Hospital.” The second CWM case was a nurse who was working in a different part of the hospital to the positive patient.

More movement imminent?

While Dr Fong has said he wants most eligible Fijians vaccinated before the lifting of restrictions, planning is underway to allow Fijians who have been stuck in Viti Levu due to island-wide containment measures to return home.

“In many instances children have not seen their parents, wives and husbands have been separated. They want to go back home, I’m sure we all understand that. The Ministry with MCTTT, Ministry of Maritime and Rural Affairs and Ministry of iTaukei Affairs have put together a number of protocols to ensure that the protocols of safe travel, including a proper 14 days of quarantine, are fully adhered to,” Dr Fong says.