By Lice Movono of RNZ Pacific
Forty six people from Fiji's central division where the capital Suva is located, have tested positive for Covid-19, taking the national total to 195 active cases.
Fiji has had 360 cases in total since the first case was reported in March 2020, with 161 recoveries and four deaths.
Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Dr James Fong said two patients were in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva.
"Today has not been an easy day, nor do I expect that the days ahead will get any better. Many of you have questions. I hope to answer some now and I am assured that a press conference will be organised soon to answer more questions," Fong said.
Funerals seen as spreader events
Calling attention to what he described as the troublesome nature of final rites, Fong said funerals were the spreader events of the current outbreak of the Indian B.1.617 variant of Covid-19.
He called on Fijians to adjust funerals and while he acknowledged it was a difficult time for all involved, he asked that people adjust activities to suit the current situation.
Authorities have restricted funerals to graveside services with only 10 persons in attendance at the cemetery and lead up events.
"Everyone should recall that this latest outbreak gained momentum when one person who contracted the virus in the border quarantine area attended a funeral, yet funeral gatherings continue to be sources of spread."
The deceased must be buried, and we must pay our respects and accompany them during their last hours on earth, but we must temporarily find new ways to do this.
Families are urged to limit graveside services to 10 persons and to limit gatherings before or after the burial to 10 persons or less.
Our investigations indicated that in some instances, funeral gatherings of 100 were split up into five so-called "bubbles" of 20 persons, he said.
Meanwhile forty-three of the new cases are linked to existing clusters which had been under investigation and were detected through contact tracing and targeted screening.
Of the 43 new cases, 28 are from Nadali in Nausori town and three are from Navosai near Nausori which are linked to the Narere funeral cluster. Two are from the Muanikoso cluster which stems from a staff of Extra Supermarket in Suva city where an outbreak occurred a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile, nine more naval officers are confirmed positive, nine of whom are from Kinoya in Nasinu town and 1 is from Nadonumai in Lami which had previously been Covid-19 free.
One cluster is linked to a Samabula household where a funeral had taken place a week ago.
The remaining three new positive cases are not yet linked to other cases and were still being investigated.
The Nadali red zone is on day 29 into a targeted lockdown while Muanikoso is on day six.
"It is important to note that the majority of these cases have been found as a result of our extensive contact tracing effort and are linked to known clusters. This increase was not unexpected, but it should serve to show how easily this virus is transmitted and why restrictions are in place," Fong said.
"We expect the number of cases to rise because we are testing aggressively in areas where we know the virus is spreading. We have a number of prominent locations under investigation including Government buildings and Kadavu House."
The permanent secretary said Covid-19 had spread within containment zones but assured medical authorities would be "exercising extra vigilance to ensure that there is no spread outside those containment zones."
Enforcement of Covid-safe restrictions including restrictions on movement and gatherings will be strengthened along with enforcement of mask-wearing, physical distancing amongst other measures, Fong added.
The MOH has in the past week administered 19,348 AstraZeneca vaccines in the Suva-Nausori corridor and 24,042 in all of Fiji.
"To date, 18.5 percent of the targeted population have received at least one dose and 3117 individuals have had 2 doses.
An additional 50,000 doses are due to arrive in the country by the end of the week. Once these doses are deployed, at least 260,000 persons will have got their first dose," Dr Fong said.
Restrictions in West and North
Fong said the information from the Western Division where gateway town Nadi and port city Lautoka was good but authorities would exercise caution and continue surveillance work. Restrictions in the Western division are being reviewed and changes to the containment measures there and in the Northern Division would be announced soon.
"We will need to maintain restrictions on movement from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu in order to ensure that Vanua Levu remains transmission-free. We will be exploring and announcing soon rotocols of movement that will allow persons who have not been home for long to return home.
This virus has kept families apart and has caused undue social suffering. Our response has been firm and has proven successful in the western division and in specific locations in the Central Division," he said.