PNG’s Acting Health Secretary has announced another suspected death from COVID-19 in the Nation’s Capital.
Dr Paison Dakulala said a 35-year-old health worker died due to respiratory illness as a result of COVID-19 over the weekend. However the man’s relatives say he died from other health issues.
Meanwhile, a first case of COVID-19 was reported in Lae Tuesday. There are 63 confirmed cases in PNG.
“The reality is, that based on reputable modelling, the number of cases in Papua New Guinea is much higher than that which has been recorded” Prime Minister James Marape said. “Based on current numbers, we can expect to see a double in the number of cases every 2 to 3 days.”
The increased number of diagnoses has prompted a 14-day lockdown of Port Moresby which will see schools closed and public transport cease operations, apart from taxi services. Masks will be mandatory in public places, a 10pm-5am curfew is in place and flights into and out of Port Moresby are restricted. There will be a maximum limit of 15 people gathering in public places.
The Business Council of PNG is concerned a prolonged lockdown could see 68% of PNG businesses shut their doors by the end of this year. Council President Nuni Kulu has suggested businesses be allowed to self-regulate to ensure high hygiene standards and social distancing.
PNG’s health system is under immense stress. Port Moresby General Hospital has reorganised its emergency department and essential services, and has made a public appeal for a wide range of supplies including face masks, gloves, fruit and vegetables, bottled water, toilet paper and motor vehicles for staff transportation. Meanwhile the PNG Nurses Association is threatening strike action. It has petitioned the government calling for a change in management at the health department, citing shortages in personal protection equipment (PPE) for front line officers, an absence of standarding operating procedures, and a lack of training and alloances for nurses caring for COVID-19 patients.
Meanwhile Australia is sending up to eight medical specialists to PNG next week to assist with the COVID-19 response.“This forward team will provide immediate on ground assessment to improve laboratory strengthening, case management, infection control, triage and emergency management, and public health,” an Australian government statement said. The United States has donated 40 ventilators to PNG on top of the US$3.5 million provided to the PNG government for the response. China has also donated ventilators and PPE kits to PNG. PPE kits have also been donated by UNICEF, World Bank, Japan Government, Newcrest Mining and others.
Down south, the mayor of Torre Shire in North Queensland says border controls may need to be tightened to stop PNG nationals entering the Torres Strait for emergency health care.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has already said security at the Solomon Islands-Papua New Guinea border remains a top priority.
“As you might already be aware, in previous weeks, we had a case involving two PNG nationals who have crossed the border and came into contact with seven of our locals. All seven individuals have undergone quarantine and their tests have returned negative,” the Solomon Star reports Sogavare as saying.
Sources: Pacnews/NBC NEWS/MOROBE PROVINCIAL HEALTH AUTHORITY/ISLANDS BUSINESS