'Crisis unfolding' for Australia's neighbour as two pregnant women die from Covid

One of Australia’s closest neighbours is facing a coronavirus crisis with Papua New Guinea’s hospital system struggling as two pregnant women died from Covid-19.

One hospital in Papua New Guinea is facing closure while others are struggling to provide vital medical services to residents, The Guardian reported.

ABC News journalist Belinda Kora, who is based in Port Moresby, tweeted there have been six Covid-19 deaths at Port Moresby General Hospital alone, and three in the past 24 hours including two pregnant women.

In the past 28 days, Papua New Guinea has had 49 deaths and 3,557 cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

A health worker prepares to take a swab from a man to test for Covid-19 coronavirus outside a makeshift clinic in a sports stadium in Port Moresby.
A health care workers holds a Covid test at a stadium in Port Moresby. Source: Getty Images

Port Moresby General Hospital CEO Dr Paki Molumi told EMTV the hospital’s isolation ward is at capacity.

Other parts of PNG aren’t faring well against the virus either.

Angau general hospital emergency department head Dr Alex Peawi told the publication Lae’s stadium has been converted into a hospital. Lae is PNG’s second largest city.

Dr Kapiro Kendaura said there is a “crisis unfolding before our eyes” in the country’s Eastern Highlands.

“Our emergency department is always full with Covid patients. We have a shortage of manpower, with more than 30 staff down with Covid. We are in dire need of oxygen, amongst other things,” Dr Kendaura said.

Dr Kendaura is in charge of the province’s curative health services.

A Papuan man receives a dose of the Sinovac Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine conducted by Indonesian navy medical team at Sorong seaport, in Sorong, West Papua.
The Indonesian navy medical team gives a man a Sinovac vaccine. Source: Getty Images

'Worst phase of the crisis'

The blame for the ongoing crisis is being put down to a combination of several factors: a fragile health system, the highly contagious Delta variant and misinformation being spread online.

Dr Molumi told The Australian the country is currently in its “worst phase of the crisis”.

It doesn’t help that only 0.2 per cent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated.

Dr Molumi added it’s also hard to tell how many cases there actually are due to low testing numbers.

Australia has provided assistance via the Australian Defence Force through Operation PNG Assist. A second group was sent over in September to take over from the first who arrived in May.

Royal Australian Air Force personal are seen preparing COVID-19 vaccines and humanitarian supplies for loading onto a C-17A Globemaster at RAAF Base Amberley, west of Brisbane.
Royal Australian Air Force prepare a Covid-19 shipment for PNG from South East Queensland. Source: AAP

Outgoing Contingent Commander Major Peter Southern said the ADF had provided assistance with the vaccine rollout through helping provide information on its importance to residents and planning.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 10,000 vaccines were sent over in May. That was on top of 172,000 sent in April.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in March she had “major concerns” about PNG.

"We have been assisting with some tests in Papua New Guinea and out of the 500 tests that our health authorities have done for Papua New Guinea, 250 were positive. This is a real concern," she said.

"Papua New Guinea is on the doorstep of Queensland and I hope that I will be able to speak to the Prime Minister or Prime Minister's office in the next 24 hours just to talk about our concerns there."

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