Struggling Papua New Guinea opens emergency Covid-19 hospital

·2-min read

Papua New Guinea has converted a sports centre into a makeshift Covid-19 hospital as the Pacific nation struggles with a surge of coronavirus cases.

The 290-bed clinic received just two patients Monday and was expected to start admitting overflow patients from Port Moresby General Hospital from Tuesday, relieving a healthcare system under "immense" strain.

After almost a year without widespread community transmission, a rapid rise in infections in the impoverished nation had led to patients being turned away from overwhelmed health facilities or reportedly being treated on the floor of hospitals.

Matt Cannon, chief executive of St John Ambulance Papua New Guinea, said the makeshift Covid-19 facility was set up in less than two weeks but is being forced to scale up slowly due to a shortage of medical staff, who are falling ill to the virus.

"It is a huge challenge for us here, there simply is a shortage of nurses and doctors," he told AFP.

"We've got nurses and doctors in tears at the moment, working back-to-back night shift/day shift."

"The system's under strain," he added. "It's putting them under immense strain."

The opening of the overflow facility -- in what is normally an aquatic centre -- comes as the country begins its vaccine rollout while battling widespread misinformation.

Prime Minister James Marape and senior doctors were the first to receive their jabs Tuesday in an attempt to boost public confidence in the shots.

About 40 percent of the 1,600 staff at the Port Moresby General Hospital have agreed to be vaccinated, according to health officials, while doses will also be sent to hotspots including Lae, Goroka and Vanimo.

Neighbouring Australia last week sent an emergency batch of 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to inoculate frontline staff, along with a small team of emergency health officials to assist in the crisis.

More than 4,000 cases were detected across Papua New Guinea in March alone -- compared with less than 1,000 positive cases in 2020.

But health experts say low rates of testing means the real figures are likely to be much higher.

str-hr/arb/qan