The government of Papua New Guinea said Tuesday it would restrict movement without imposing a full lockdown as coronavirus infections skyrocketed in the Pacific country.
PNG recorded 82 positive cases from 91 tests processed in one day on Tuesday, prompting the Australian state of Queensland to suspend charter flights from the OK Tedi copper and gold mine, one of the country’s largest employers.
Of the last 500 swabs Australian health workers removed from PNG residents, 250 were positive, according to Queensland health officials.
Prime Minister James Marape warned that the country’s official total of 2,269 Covid-19 cases, including 26 deaths, was an undercount as it was based on those who showed up for tests.
Only 54,410 of PNG’s 9 million people have been tested, said Superintendent Dominic Kakas, the spokesman for the country’s Covid-19 task force.
“The community transmission has taken place. It broke loose. We have to stop it from spreading further, ”said Marape.
“If we don’t [take a] If we respond proactively, our health system will be clogged and we may not be able to sustain the outbreak that is happening. “
He said health officials are looking “city by city or city and city, province by province, to prevent people from moving in and out.”
Officials carry the coffin of former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Sir Michael Somare during his funeral service at the Parliament House in Port Moresby. © AFP via Getty Images
The country’s sea borders with Australia and the Solomon Islands have been closed.
Marape urged people to stay in their districts and villages. He said the police and military would ensure that people and public transportation were following public health measures.
There are concerns of a surge in cases where mass gatherings were held over the weekend to commemorate Sir Michael Somare, PNG’s first Prime Minister, who passed away last month.
Officials in Australia who ran PNG affairs until independence in 1975 said they would be monitoring the progress of the virus. Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister, said vaccines were brought to PNG to vaccinate frontline health workers.
“I am very concerned about the situation in PNG and we are monitoring it very closely and actively,” said Dr. Paul Kelly, Australia’s chief medical officer, on Tuesday.
He said vaccination started on Torres Street, which separates the two countries. “You are currently vaccinating on Saibai Island, one of the islands on the Torres Strait just off the PNG mainland,” said Kelly.