Statement by the Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama
Bula Vinaka and good evening to you all.
My fellow Fijians, I come to you tonight to speak to you about Government’s plans to allow us to resume as much normal activity as possible while we work together to put an end to this pandemic in Fiji. I say work together because defeating this pandemic is a job for every Fijian. It is a national effort, and we all have to do our part. We simply must be able to contain this virus without shutting down large parts of the country again. We have accumulated a lot of knowledge about how this virus is spreading in our country and are going to put that knowledge to work not just to stop it in its tracks but also to recommence economic activity.
I am speaking to you this evening from my home because all members of Parliament who were physically present in last week’s sitting were asked to home isolate for 4 days when an administrative staff member of Parliament was identified as the primary contact of a positive COVID case. As you can see, this virus can affect anyone, almost anywhere.
After observing the patterns of infection in the country, which are now primarily centred in the Suva-Lami-Nausori corridor, we have developed specific responses that are targeted to the conditions there and in other parts of the country. We know that we need to defeat the virus and keep the country moving and working as much as possible. That requires a targeted surgical approach.
First, I want to tell you that after having no cases in the Nadi area for 17 days and 20 days in Lautoka, we since yesterday recorded 2 cases in Nadi. That is not the best of news. But the good news is that we have excellent knowledge of the movements of these 2 persons and we will be able to establish a small locked down area Koroviri Settlement near Nawaka village, where these cases are resident and stop the virus there.
From now the establishment of specific locked areas and teams made up of Ministry of Health and Medical services, RFMF and Fiji Police sweeping across suburbs and localities in high risk zones screening and swabbing will be a major part of the targeted surgical approach.
As I have stated earlier we continuously are carrying out appraisals based on health and socio-economic imperatives. While these appraisals and assessments are not always carried out in the public domain as it can lead to public panic and consternation, we are able to make firm and decisive decisions.
It is in this respect I wish to make some further key announcements.
From tomorrow morning at 4am, the Lomolomo border separating Nadi and Lautoka will be removed. This will create one large Nadi-Lautoka containment zone in which people will be able to travel freely to go to work or resume business. Businesses will be able to open as long as they adopt the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport guidelines. High-risk businesses such as gyms, bars and grog shops will remain closed until further notice.
And then next Saturday the borders at the Momi junction on the Sigatoka end of Nadi and at Nacilau, on the Ba end of Lautoka will also be removed.
The curfew hours for the Nadi-Lautoka containment zone and Viti Levu apart from Lami-Suva-Nausori will be from 8pm to 4am beginning tomorrow.
In the next 7 days the Ministry of Health will carry out large screening and swabbing exercises within the one Nadi-Lautoka containment zone. Furthermore, from Monday, in 2 days time the Ministry of Health and Medical Services will roll out a large vaccination roll out in the Nadi-Lautoka zone.
I firstly wish to thank all those who live in the Nadi-Lautoka zone and those who live outside this zone but have been impacted by the containment for their perseverance and patience. I know it has not been easy. I also know that many of you understand the necessity of what needed to be done.
I ask one thing one of you. I also ask the rest of all Fijians in Viti Levu and all over Fiji. Please adhere to the COVID safe measures. Register to get vaccinated and get yourself and your family vaccinated. It is critical that you do. If you don’t we won’t be able to reopen the economy, get you back to your work, businesses and resume normal life.’
Beginning tomorrow we will also ease restrictions in the northern division and maritime areas, where we have no recorded cases of the virus. All businesses including what is deemed to be high risk businesses such as hair dressing salons, gyms and billiard rooms will also be allowed to operate. Fijians who wish to travel from Vanua Levu and the maritime areas can now return to Viti Levu by sea or air. If you wish to do so please call 163 to register with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport.
I appeal also to all Fijians in Vanua Levu and the maritime areas. Please value your COVID free status. Please also adhere to the COVID safe measures. Don’t take your status for granted. All those in the high risk businesses, you will be given specific guidelines through the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport as to how you should operate. If you don’t adhere to them you will not be allowed to operate.
Travel will also be allowed from Viti Levu and containment zones to outside Viti Levu or non-containment zones but subject to various protocols being met. Ministry of Health is currently working on these protocols and will announce the details within the next four days.
The Lami-Suva-Nausori containment zone presents a different situation, but there are still many things we can do to ease the daily burden on the residents of that area. First, beginning tomorrow at 4am we will eliminate the borders between Suva and Nausori and Lami. This means that the containment zone will now be bordered at Wainadoi at one end and Logani at the other, while all other perimeters will remain the same. So we will now have one big Lami-Nausori containment zone. Within this zone, we will still however maintain the existing locked down areas-areas where we know there are known infections. This large containment zone will allow people to go to work and open up businesses but subject to the strict guidelines established by Ministry of Health and Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport.
We know that the Lami-Nausori corridor has the highest number of active cases and we have seen that due to the neglect of COVID safe measures there has been an exponential rise in cases.
Therefore, movement in this zone must be for specific purposes. Only essential businesses and businesses that meet Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport guidelines will be allowed to open, and business owners and managers will be accountable for ensuring that employees, customers and visitors follow COVID-safe practices.
Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport will announce a list of businesses that can resume work, including businesses that employ large numbers of people, businesses with strict overseas orders that must be filled, businesses that support socio-economic development and some small businesses that support the most disadvantaged people in the country. We have cut through the bureaucracy of securing approvals and get businesses that can operate within the ambit of our health restrictions open as soon and safely as possible.
We will continue with our consultations with various commerce and business organisations on specifics regarding some industries. I want to stress that in the Lami-Nausori zone high-risk businesses will remain closed. We still encourage the public to stay at home if they do not need to be out for medical reasons, permitted work or essential shopping.
The new Lami-Nausori containment zone will remain under a 6pm until 4am curfew.
My fellow Fijians, funerals and the gatherings surrounding funerals have been a major source of the spread of this virus, and we simply must adjust our ways temporarily in this emergency. We Fijians take the passing of a loved one very seriously. We show our love and respect, and we stay with them until we bury them or scatter their ashes in the sea. However, I have to ask this of you as we have no choice – masking will remain mandatory and people must observe proper social distancing during funerals and functions relating to the passing away of our loved ones. The ten-person rule applies before, during, and after the funeral. Please, limit your reguregu or other religious and cultural practices, rituals and prayers before, during and after the passing away of your loved ones to ten people –– no more. We will from tomorrow strictly enforce these measures through the disciplined forces. You of course can consider holding a more fuller memorial service for your loved one once we can gather safely in large groups.
These are our first steps toward reopening the economy and resuming normal life. If everyone strictly does their part to prevent the spread by observing these restrictions, we will be able to continue to relax the restrictions as our cases diminish. So that is what I am asking of all of you. Be responsible. Take this very seriously. Follow the COVID-safe guidelines that will keep you and your neighbours safe.
Most importantly, we are accelerating our vaccination effort as much as we can. The Ministry of Health will have the ability to administer 260,000 first doses of vaccines by tomorrow because more vaccines have arrived in the country—and vaccines will continue to arrive with little delay. Once a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated, we will be able to loosen restrictions quickly, as you have seen happen in other parts of the world. Fiji is not far behind.
Second, as mentioned we are stepping up our screening and testing, which is already being conducted at an impressive pace by a very dedicated team. I want to point out that contact tracing and testing have been our most effective weapons so far against this virus. Until we can vaccinate ourselves against it, our only defence is to find it and isolate it.
Third, as we have already stated we have spent directly 200 million dollars in unemployment benefits, cash benefits and micro, small and medium assistance since last year April.
You may recall that last year some had said we needed to give more than what we did but they did not look beyond the first few months. Our argument has been that we like all other governments in the world did not know how long this pandemic would stay around for and affect our economies and livelihoods. We always need to look beyond our noses. We need sustainability. As a result of our prudent management of our finances, we have the capacity to continue to provide those benefits and expand it to those who now need further assistance.
I announce tonight that through the Ministry of Economy, we will extend the Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the FNPF benefits which commenced last year June for another month or equivalent to 2 fortnight payments. This will cost Government directly approximately 21 million dollars. FNPF will release 6 million dollars. A total of 27 million dollars.
Those who qualified for the one-off 220-dollar payment because they were in a lock down area will now be able to access two additional payments of 220 dollars in other words 440 dollars from their FNPF accounts. Government will top-up the balance for those with insufficient funds. We expect there will also be some new applicants in this category. This will cost Government directly approximately 4 million dollars. FNPF will release approximately 9 million dollars. A total of 13 million dollars.
The above collaboration in these schemes between FNPF and Government will benefit over 60,000 Fijians.
Those in the informal sector and who do not qualify under any other assistance scheme and are not employed will be able to receive a payment of fifty dollars. Under the previous payment scheme through the money wallets of MPAISA and MYCASH, it was only restricted to households in the containment zones but under this new scheme, all individuals 18 and above in Viti Levu will qualify. Further information on this scheme will be detailed by Tuesday. We expect that this initiative will cost Government directly 10 million dollars targeting about 200,000 Fijians.
Fourth, we will present legislation to change enforcement of COVID emergency as soon as Parliament sits. The legislation will allow for on-the-spot payment of fines for not wearing masks and businesses not adhering to COVID safe measures. It will seek to make businesses equally accountable for non-compliance by employees and customers. For example, business owners who allow patrons into their establishment without masks would be penalized as well as the patron. After more than three violations, businesses may be shut down.
My fellow Fijians, we were COVID-contained for more than one year. We had reason to be proud of what we had accomplished while other countries suffered under an enormous strain. A few acts of carelessness and inattention, as we have seen happen in all countries, brought this virus down on us again, but we were prepared. Our health professionals and other public personnel have worked tirelessly, as they did a year ago, to contain this virus and get us back to normal.
We are making progress again. But the rest is up to all of us—not just the Ministry of Health. Not just the RFMF and the Police. We need individuals, families, communities, we need businesses, businesswomen and men to participate in making these measures work. We as Government have also learnt that the private sector must be made to participate in spaces that currently is seen only as the domain of the public sector.
I hope that you now understand that your direct lack of compliance, or your family members’ or people in your street, your community, your village, or your work place, will mean that you may eventually lose your job, may not have a source of income, may not be able to operate your business – big or small.
We are all in this together. We all must not tolerate or turn a blind eye to non-compliance with the COVID measures. Our negligence or tolerance will be to our own detriment. We must be firm. We must not compromise. We must be vigilant.
My fellow Fijians we need to do two things: get vaccinated and practise COVID-safe behavior, including having your careFIJI app and Bluetooth turned on at all times. We know what keeps us safe, so let’s do it. Together, we can get our Fiji back and once again live the lives we love.