Domestic Politics and Healthcare

The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG) Hon. James Marape says that the country must adjust to living with COVID-19 going into the future as the National Capital District (NCD, Port Moresby) comes out of the 14-day lockdown with the coronavirus outbreak. «Despite our best attempts to stop COVID-19 from coming into our country, since January this year when we stopped travelers from returning from China, we knew that our borders are weakly defended because of traditional and trading travelers, ships and boat travelling was still taking place and airline travelers were still arriving […] As evident in our country’s first and second cases where they were not epidemiologically linked, COVID-19 was bound to explode and despite our best effort, it has exploded in July hence the need for Government to awaken our country to the need to adjust and to live with it,» Hon. James Marape said. PNG Prime Minister also marked that the world has 20,500,543 proven COVID-19 cases with 737,863 deaths in 213 countries. Indonesia, which borders on PNG, has 128,776 cases with 5765 deaths within which the West Papua Province has 3837 cases with 41 deaths from COVID-19.

Currently, there have been a total of 271 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea, including 193 active cases, 75 recovered cases, and 3 fatal cases. In total, as of the 14th of August 2020, COVID-19 cases have been reported in 10 of the 22 provinces of Papua New Guinea (Western – 47 people, West Sepik-1 person, Southern Highlands – 1 person, Eastern Highlands – 1 person, Morobe – 5 people, Central – 5 people, East New Britain – 2 people, New Ireland – 1 person, Bougainville – 1 person and NCD – 207 people).

Hon. James Marape also says that «PNG’s medical and scientific advisory council (MESAC) to the National Control Centre had resolved and advised the Government to uplift lockdown and inform people on the new normal lifestyle so we live, work and socialize within those prescribed new normal». [1]

Meanwhile, on the 12th of August 2020 (Wednesday), Papua New Guinea has announced new 55 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country. The National Pandemic Response Control Centre said the 55 cases are the single highest recorded in a day. It’s include 18 from the National Capital District and 37 from Western Province, which is borders on Indonesia. [2]

Anyway, bus service in the capital of Papua New Guinea – Port Moresby has been resumed from the 12th of August, but fares will be increased to K1.50 because operators have to strictly comply with social distancing for passengers, also says PNG Prime Minister Hon. James Marape. Operators and passengers must all wear masks, have sanitisers and implement a 1.5m social distancing». Mr Marape also marked that public markets should also implement the new normal. In addition, police officers and soldiers would be stationed at bus stops to ensure that safety measures were followed. [3]

According to PNG Police Minister Bryan Kramer, police officers and soldiers patrolling the streets of Port Moresby to enforce the Covid-19 health measures such as the wearing of masks will be wearing red armbands. In turn, PNG Prime Minister assured the people on Monday that the use of soldiers to assist police around the city was not meant to «scare people» but to manage crowds and ensure order. [4]

According to Mr Marape, domestic flights into and out of Port Moresby and between provinces are also to continue. In addition, all domestic flights must comply with hygiene and social distancing restrictions as issued by the Controller and all passengers must complete an Air Passenger Travel Form which is to be submitted to Provincial Health Authority on arrival. [5-6]

However, all passengers booking domestic tickets from Monday (the 10th of August 2020) must have the COVID-19 Controller David Manning’s approval to travel, prior to issuance of ticket. Outbound international travel does not require approval while inbound international travel continues to require Controller approval, in line with current practice. All passengers intending to book domestic travel from the 10th of August morning will be provided an Approval Request Form to complete. [7]

As stated PNG Prime Minister Hon. James Marape, wearing of masks in public in Port Moresby is mandatory for everyone, including school children. In turn, PNG Education Minister Joseph Yopyyopy said the wearing of masks in schools was compulsory in the National Capital District and Central Province. PNG Schools resume on Monday after a two-week break prompted by the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Port Moresby. [8]

Due to increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea, the PNG Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR) can carry out about 1000 tests per day. According to PNGIMR Director Dr. William Pomat, this may be possible after receiving machines for the Goroka, Madang and Port Moresby labs. Dr. Pomat also noted that the PNG Government is liaising with donors to assist with equipment, consumables and reagents. [9]

Members of the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) who arrived in Papua New Guinea last week, will begin work immediately supporting the PNG Government’s pandemic response team. A total of 7 medical specialists, including emergency care clinicians, are part of Australia’s response to PNG’s call for international assistance through the World Health Organization (WHO). According to AUSMAT team leader Dr. Mark Little, they will meet with a variety of key officials from the National Control Centre, to plan and coordinate resistance of what they and the Australian government could offer from a health point of view. [10]

The COVID-19 test results of the 74 health officers in isolation have returned negative. According to the Head of Morobe Provincial Health Authority Dr. Kipas Binga, swabs were taken from 74 people who had been in contact with the second Covid-19 patient, a 37-year-old man from the Department of Health, who is still remaining at the isolation awaiting his second test results before he could travel back to Port Moresby. [11]

Dr. Kipas Binga also marked that the third COVID-19 case in province has fully recovered. The case is that of a 28-year-old man who had no travel history. Where he got the virus from is still unknown. He self-isolated at home and practiced prevention control measures. A second test was taken after ten days and returned negative, including samples from his close contacts. Morobe now has five confirmed COVID-19 cases so far, one was imported from overseas. All COVID-19 cases are controlled by provincial health authorities. [12]

In addition, The Morobe Provincial Health Authority has revealed having only a month’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its frontline workers. According to Dr. Kipas Binga these supplies are not sufficient if there are more COVID-19 cases reported in the province. Dr. Binga has appealed to the PNG Department of Health and responsible authorities managing PPEs distribution to the provinces to release PPE for Morobe immediately. He said the province has more than one million people and should be given enough support in terms of resource sharing in such a pandemic outbreak. [13]

The Government of Papua New Guinea has clarified that the 175 workers from China who arrived in Port Moresby from the Philippines had complied with all COVID-19 entry requirements and hygiene protocols to enter the country. National Pandemic Response Controller David Manning said that the Chinese workers had been working on Government projects in PNG and had gone home for a break before the pandemic struck. Subsequently, they were unable to return until August because of international flight restrictions. Chinese workers were whisked away in buses to their hotels for the 14-day quarantine. Mr. Manning said that they would all be in PNG for the next 6 to 12 months. The 175 were construction managers and workers of major Chinese state-owned enterprises engaged in major government infrastructure including a hydro-power station, provincial airport redevelopments, highway constructions and construction of the National Court and Supreme Court building. [14] [1]

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