Australia is expected to rush urgent coronavirus assistance to Papua New Guinea as aid groups warn the country is facing a public health catastrophe from a “staggering” increase in cases, the ABC is reporting.
PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape sounded the alarm on the pandemic on Monday, telling journalists in Port Moresby: “The number is quite staggering, if we don’t do a corrective response to this, our health system will be clogged and we won’t be able to sustain it.”
Port Moresby Hospital’s Covid-19 isolation ward is already full and additional beds are filling up rapidly.
Dozens of medical workers have tested positive and Marape is asking for Australia’s help in expediting vaccines for its doctors and nurses.
“While waiting on the bigger supply of vaccines to come in, we need to keep our health workers and defend them from being exposed,” he said.
The pandemic has infected PNG politicians, staff at key national institutions such as the Prime Minister’s Department and Australian diplomatic officials working in the country.
There are also fears that case numbers will spike further in the wake of mass gatherings of mourners commemorating former PNG prime minister Sir Michael Somare, who died a fortnight ago.
One Australian government source told the ABC that ministers are “deeply worried” about the situation.
After initial delays, the PNG government signed the regulatory approvals needed to bring in the AstraZeneca vaccine this month, but its first batch under the Covax facility is not expected to arrive for another couple of weeks.
The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) said the government should immediately deploy 20,000 vaccines to Papua New Guinea for frontline health workers and pledge to vaccinate 1 million people in the country by the end of the year.
“Make no mistake, we are racing against the clock to prevent a catastrophe,” said ACFID chief executive Marc Purcell.
“The international community must get behind PNG in their time of need. If ever there was a time to dig deep and ‘step-up’ in the Pacific, it’s now.”