'Step up': Australia told to act to avoid Covid 'catastrophe'

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

The federal government is being urged to "step up" to avoid a disaster unfolding in our island neighbour of Papua New Guinea.

The worsening coronavirus outbreak in PNG has strengthened calls for an urgent foreign aid boost across the region, and for the Australian government to assist in bringing forward vaccinations for critical healthcare workers in the country.

The case for extra support is being advanced by Queensland – which has seen a number of people test positive in the state after returning from PNG – and discussions with the federal government are reportedly under way.

More than half of active cases in Queensland have come from its northern neighbour, and the state is rolling out a prioritised vaccination program in the Torres Strait – just a short dinghy ride to PNG.

Port Moresby's, PNG's capital is seeing more Covid cases.
Port Moresby's General Hospital has seen a huge uptick in patients testing positive. Source: Getty

"The Commonwealth government has been very good in this space, they've often reached out at times of need of our Pacific Island neighbours, and I don't think that they will ignore this situation," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Tuesday.

Of the 500 tests Queensland health authorities have recently assisted PNG with, about half returned a positive result, she revealed on Monday.

PNG Covid infection rate feared to be almost 1 in 3

PNG's Prime Minister James Marape has sounded the alarm, warning that his nation's approaching an infection rate "of about one person to three or four".

"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," he told journalists in the capital of Port Moresby.

Mr Marape said a nationwide isolation strategy will be introduced in the coming days.

The Australian government has already channelled millions in funding to its northern neighbour to assist with the vaccine rollout and provide PPE, but there are growing calls for more to be done.

When asked this morning, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it was "a major focus" for the government.

"We understand the [PNG health] system is very strained, it's a major focus for the government, and we will have more to say on that," she said.

While a team of Australian doctors is headed for the country, it is expected the government will announce further assistance measures.

Government urged to 'step up' as PNG nears Covid catastrophe

Aid groups have warned of an unfolding "catastrophe" with a new report released today by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) highlighting the role NGOs have done to help shield Pacific island nations from the worst of the pandemic so far.

While PNG has been relatively unscathed to date, that luck has run out, experts warn.

The remoteness of much of PNG makes testing and delivering healthcare extremely difficult. Source: Nick Whigham
The remoteness of much of PNG makes testing and delivering healthcare extremely difficult. Source: Nick Whigham

ACFID CEO Marc Purcell is calling on the federal government to increase its investment to deal with the current crisis and enable countries to better handle outbreaks in the future.

"There is no steady state for a pandemic, it either multiplies or dwindles. We must double down on the global vaccination effort and build stronger health systems in our region. This is the best way to fight poverty and instability in our neighbourhood and beyond," he said.

Speaking to Nine Newspapers, he said the reports emanating from the country including that hospitals would soon be unable to cope were "dire".

“Make no mistake, we are racing against the clock to prevent a catastrophe. Increasing reports of full morgues, deaths in settlements, PPE shortages and hospitals threatening to shut down are dire.

“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," he said.

There have been just under 2,270 cases in the country and 26 confirmed Covid deaths according to the World Health Organisation, with both numbers expected to rise significantly.

with AAP

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