First vaccines arrive in Covid-hit Papua New Guinea

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Papua New Guinea received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines Tuesday as the country raced to quell a Covid-19 surge overwhelming its fragile health system.

An initial shipment of 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine was flown in from neighbouring Australia, earmarked to protect badly hit frontline hospital staff.

Prime Minister James Marape greeted the grey air force C-17 bearing the vaccine, three mobile storage facilities and a small team of Australian public health specialists at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea survived a year without widespread community transmission, but the impoverished Melanesian nation is now detecting hundreds of cases each day.

Some hospitals have been forced to turn away new patients due to a lack of medical staff, who are testing positive in large numbers.

With the total number of cases nationwide tripling in the past month alone, authorities at the weekend approved a series of measures, including shutting schools and bars and barring non-essential movement.

Concerned that widespread transmission could destabilise its neighbour, Australia has urged AstraZeneca to divert one million more doses bought by Canberra to Papua New Guinea as soon as possible.

But there is no indication yet of when they may arrive.

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