Surging coronavirus numbers have put Papua New Guinea’s health system under pressure, as hospitals and morgues reach capacity.
9News has been told morgues are full and in some crowded hospitals, patients have been treated on the floor.
One person suffered an asthma attack and died in a car park at the weekend.
“We have a lot of cases in the hospital,” Gerehu Hospital’s Dr Gary Nou said.
“We’re facing an unprecedented situation.”
Patients have waited hours to be tested and case numbers have soared. Of just 749 tests conducted today, 560 tested positive.
9News has been told some Papua New Guineans have been reluctant to be vaccinated and misinformation has spread furiously through Facebook.
“There’s people thinking it’s all a hoax or a western conspiracy,” Jonathan Pryke from the Lowy Institute said.
Even the PNG Opposition Leader joined in on the speculation.
“It might even be proven that coronavirus has been here for hundreds of years,” Belden Norman Namah said.
Australia is trying to fight the misinformation.
“Rest assured everyone is seized of the urgency of the situation,” Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson said.
Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia (Doctors Without Borders) said vaccines needed to be made available quickly for frontline healthcare staff and high-risk groups.
“The health facilities are struggling to cope with the outbreak,” interim head of mission Ghulam Nabi said.
“There are significant constraints because a substantial number of healthcare staff have recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“They have to isolate and can’t go to work. Various healthcare services have been restricted and the remaining staff are concerned as they expect a major disruption to healthcare services.”
Accelerated response required
The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has urged the Australian government to accelerate its response to the escalating COVID-19 outbreak in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
ACFID has welcomed the indication in Senate estimates today that the Australian Government will move beyond the immediate 8480 vaccines allocated to PNG.
The council welcomed comments by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Marise Payne that all options were on the table for supplying vaccines to PNG, including the use of domestically manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines.
ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said the Australian government was “absolutely right to be pressing the EU on this matter”.
“But the situation is too urgent to wait,” Mr Purcell said.
“We are seeing cases rise in Queensland (hospitals and hotel quarantine) as travellers return from PNG and with numbers increasing in Western Province, the prospect of transmission across the Torres Strait is now a major risk.
“We are seeking for the Australian government to plan ahead and match its request to the EU by allocating 1 million domestically manufactured vaccines to PNG and rapidly support their rollout.
“We should not assume that the new strain of COVID-19 circulating in PNG is the last to emerge.
“Each time a new strain develops, the efficacy of existing vaccines comes into question. Crushing the virus in PNG is the best thing we can do right now, for PNG and for Australia.”
In recent days, ACFID wrote to DFAT and asked the government to immediately increase the number of vaccines Australia makes available from its existing domestic supply to PNG from 8480 to 20,000.
The ACFID also requested a continued increase over the coming weeks to meet the needs of frontline workers.
“We are deeply concerned for the people of PNG,” Mr Purcell said.
“Our members are reporting that their staff are falling sick with COVID-19.
“Increasing the immediate allocation of Australia’s own vaccine stocks to PNG is critical to keeping hospitals, local clinics and essential services going.”