Possibility of virus protocol ‘slippage’ from quarantine explored

Fiji’s Ministry of Health has not ruled out the possibility that recent COVID19 cases originated from sources other than the border quarantine breach by a soldier in April this year.

Several new clusters have emerged within seven days, as authorities are still to link it back to the border quarantine breach case headed by index case 73, with the latest being the two nurses, one from Raiwaqa Health Centre and the other, Lautoka Hospital, announced yesterday.

The other clusters under investigation are the second male from Ra (case 116 reported on 28 April), and the 25-year-old doctor at Lautoka Hospital (case 120 reported on 3 May). Authorities are also looking to establish the source of transmission for the recently deceased patient (case 125).

In response to questions from Mai TV Fiji, Permanent Secretary of Health Dr James Fong said the scenario that a quarantine slip could be the source of these community transmissions is possible and was considered.

“So what you are saying is a possibility. It is a possibility in every single quarantine facility in the world. We have what you call slippage through the protocol and it usually happens if there is some degree of bubble mixing that is happening in the time while they are in quarantine,” Dr Fong said.

He highlighted the circumstances around a Tanoa Hotel returnee as a case in point. He was a former border quarantine passenger who arrived from Papua New Guinea on Friday 9 April. He tested negative twice in the Tanoa Hotel border quarantine before he was discharged on 23 April. He was swabbed and re-tested as part of investigations into the breach in the Tanoa facility and returned a positive result. Authorities found out later that he had contact with the Makoi-based military officer on the day of his discharge.

He said slippages have been reported in other well-resourced nations, and much earlier compared to Fiji in which the protocols in place have held up well for 365 days. Slippages he also said are unavoidable, thus the wisdom of maintaining COVID19 measures, including curfew hours since March last year.

 “I think I keep mentioning for a while now that quarantine program is manned by human beings, the frailty of human nature we can never overestimate. It is always a reality that we have to live with,” Dr Fong said.

“So, it was because of that, that in the background we asked everybody to do the COVID19 measures and to maintain our COVID19 measures, it was because of that we asked to maintain the quarantine/curfew hours, maintain the nightclub from not opening it is all because of the fact that we know that there is a high chance that our quarantine could slip. So, we didn’t go back to zero, we stayed halfway up and that is how our response is fairly robust when we got this outbreak.”

When the first case in Ra was confirmed on 28 April, and authorities were still to establish its connection to earlier cases, Dr Fong advised the Fiji public that everyone should behave as if they are carrying the virus and limit their movements.

Meanwhile, the four new cases announced last night, bring to 129 the total cases reported in Fiji, with 84 recoveries and three deaths, since the first case was reported on 19 March 2020.

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