Papua New Guinea has reported a record number of Covid-19 cases over the weekend as doctors warn that the hospital system is in the brink of being overwhelmed and more people could die outside emergency rooms.
The news came as a photograph of a woman who died outside the Port Moresby General Hospital went viral on social media causing outrage with fears the woman’s death was due to hospital being overwhelmed due to Covid-19.
Papua New Guinea announced 242 new Covid 19 cases on 20 March bringing the country’s total to 3,359 with 36 deaths. It follows a record 295 new cases on Friday, with the country reporting a seven-day average of 181 new cases a day in the week to 20 March.
The impact of Covid is being keenly felt in the Pacific country, which has roughly 500 doctors to serve a population of around nine million, and was already struggling to deal with outbreaks of measles, drug-resistant tuberculosis and polio.
Port Moresby General Hospital CEO Dr Paki Molumi said the number of Covid-19 cases posed significant challenges. At least 120 staff members at the hospital, which serves the nation’s capital, have tested positive to Covid-19 and have had to isolate, the majority of whom work in the emergency department.
“As the number of Covid cases increase in the coming weeks, the limited staff at PMGH will not be able to take care of everyone and hence we expect more of these incidents of unexpected deaths inside and outside of the Emergency Department and the hospital car parks,” Molumi wrote about the widely-shared photograph of the woman who died outside the hospital.
“I urge the public to see this post on [Facebook] of the true situation at PMGH where you expect too much by an overstressed and limited health workforce. Help us to help you so we avoid more of incidents like this,” he said.
National Pandemic Controller David Manning also said that Papua New Guinea would be “facing challenging times” ahead.
“We came through the first wave of the virus spread better than many other countries because Papua New Guineans are a caring people, and because we want to keep our communities safe. But this second wave of infections is much worse than the first and we must not let our guard down. The number of detected Covid-19 infections today has reached 3,359, which is triple the positive cases one month ago, and we must prepare for this number to continue rising.”
“Now is the time for all of our people to be reminded how serious this threat is to us and continue to take precautions to stop the spread. We must wear face masks, we must wash our hands constantly and we must maintain social distancing everywhere possible.
On Friday evening, Kerema MP, Richard Mendani died at the Pacific International Hospital in what is now one of the most high profile Covid-19 deaths in PNG.
Chief emergency physician Dr Sam Yockopua has called on the public to take heed of the new measures and to comply with them as Covid-19 cases continue to increase.
Dr Yockopua said the country has a very fragile health system and the stress is already being felt.
“We may very soon collapse if we are not careful. People, the public need to take heed to comply with simple orders to avoid being unnecessarily sick to add to the stress. It is a ticking timebomb,” he said.
Chief emergency physician Dr Sam Yockopua warned people spreading misinformation about the virus that their actions were harmful.
“I want to seriously warn the public, especially those with really big mouths and empty drums that make louder noises,” he said. “Please at least for one moment, take time to digest what we are telling you, understand, participate and cooperate … I have noticed the public on a knee jerk response throwing in senseless points much to the detriment of health, medical and scientific workers who are the frontline workers serving to rescue you and I. Yet you still feel qualified to comment, to the point of ridiculing their dedicated commitments.
“The real danger days are fast arriving. When we get exhausted, we will all take our mass break and you will be on your own… It will soon happen if you do not comply with the measures been put in place to protect you,” he said.