Health officials to discharge mild COVID19 cases to free up isolation space

Fijian health officials will be discharging mild COVID19 cases to complete their recovery at home so as to open up isolation spaces in anticipation of the next wave of “most severe yet” cases happening within days in the country.

Fiji’s Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong said the change in tactics is in line with their overriding focus to prevent cases of severe disease and save lives, after recording 19 COVID19 deaths and nine other positive patients dying from pre-existing illnesses since the April outbreak.

“Of the more than 2,000 Fijians in isolation and quarantine facilities and more than 1,000 in-home isolation, we expect most to mount full recoveries. However over the next few weeks, as case numbers increase, our isolation capacity will be significantly tested. As that happens, we need to ensure that we identify and treat those who are most vulnerable to severe COVID-19. That is why, moving forward, our isolation facilities will be dedicated to patients who are most at risk of becoming severely ill or dying from the virus. By placing our most vulnerable in these facilities we will be able to ensure that we provide them critical treatment and closely monitor and respond if a person shows danger signs of severe COVID-19. Other patients will be asked to safely isolate themselves at home where they will be provided with the guidance and resources to receive home-based care,” Dr Fong said.

He said their highest priority is to provide life-saving care to those Fijians who are most at risk of becoming severely sick, requiring hospitalisation and death.

“Anyone can experience severe COVID-19, however, some people are more at risk, including those over the age of 60 and those with an existing medical condition, like hypertension, diabetes, heart or lung disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer or those who are obese or overweight. Our top priority is on preventing severe disease and death, and that means reaching and treating the most vulnerable patients as quickly as we can. Most people who contract COVID-19 will only have mild symptoms before making a full recovery. “

Fiji recorded 274 new coronavirus infections yesterday and whilst indicators show that numbers including fatalities will not decrease any time soon, Dr Fong insists lives can still be saved.

“The science and the experience of other nations tell us that many thousands of lives can still be saved. The science behind how this virus spreads tells us that masks, physical distance, and handwashing, can work together to slow the spread. The science behind vaccines tells us this protection works extremely well against this variant. And our progress in protecting Fijians through vaccines shows us that we are well on our way back to a version of normalcy,” he said.

For individuals in home isolation, Dr Fong said they will have a list of patient names paired with contact information so that the ministry can check in with these individuals on a daily basis over the phone to assess their medical and non-medical needs. They will also be provided with groceries and other household essentials and told to monitor their symptoms regularly. If these individuals develop any danger signs, they will be referred to the nearest hospital or health facility for treatment.

“If they aren’t able to transport themselves, we also have a new number –– number 165 –– which they can call for an emergency retrieval team to be dispatched to transport them to a COVID-care centre. This team is based out of ANZ Arena and they will also be charged with transporting patients with severe symptoms from isolation facilities to COVID-care centres.”

Changing tactics has also meant pulling personnel from the field into the ministry offices, rope in final year medical students to boost the country’s COVID-19 response and establish an intermediate COVID-care facility at the National Gymnasium with at least 50 beds available for patients who develop severe symptoms of the virus.

“It saves time by allowing us to check-in regularly with more patients so that there are fewer delays in flagging a case of severe disease. We’ve also supplemented our internal staffing with final year medical and dental students from FNU –– and we’re grateful to these young people for stepping up to serve Fiji. If need be, we have identified additional space in the area to expand the capacity of that centre if necessary.

“We are also asking that people experiencing symptoms report to screening clinics –– it is the fastest way for us to swab you, assess you, and enter you into insolation if necessary.”

Fiji has 3,503 active cases at the moment after 74 patients recovered overnight. The 7-day daily average test positivity has increased to 8.9%.

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