Port Moresby -- Surging numbers of coronavirus cases in Papua New Guinea have put a strain on the country's fragile health system.
The local media in PNG reported that hospitals and morgues have reached capacity, with several patients being treated on the floor.
The PNG government reported a total of 184 new Covid-19 cases this week, raising the national total confirmed cases to 3,758. The PNG government also reported a new fatality, raising the Covid death toll to 37.
“It is not easy to report the deaths," said David Manning, controller of the National Pandemic Response and Police Commissioner. " We encourage everyone to take care of yourself. Please I urge everyone to ensure they are following the health measures in the 'Niupela Pasin.'"
As PNG continues to battle the raging Covid transmission, Australia shipped 8,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Port Moresby to assist the country in its efforts to control the further spread of the coronavirus.
The PNG government reported that new cases came from four provinces: the National Capital District which reported 32 new cases; Western, 125; East New Britain, 21; and New Ireland, six.
In addition to the new cases reported in the country, there were four exported cases detected for PNG. Of the four, two were identified in hotel quarantine in Sydney, New South Wales.
The travel history is Wewak and Port Moresby. The third case was detected in a hotel quarantine in Cairns, Queensland. He traveled from Western Province. The fourth case was detected in a hotel quarantine in New Zealand.
Western Province has begun reporting cases since last year and is the province with the second-highest reported confirmed cases. It reported its first death.
Manning said it was not clear how far the coronavirus has spread in the rural areas. “The virus is spread from person to person and in a country like ours, most people do not come for tests until they are sick and by that time the virus has spread to other people," he said.
"The best way we can help prevent our people from rural or remote areas getting this virus is to adhere to the health measures in place which include washing hands often, covering our coughs or coughing into elbows, avoiding crowds, physical distancing and disinfecting or cleaning surfaces such as doorknobs, workbenches and personal items like laptops and phones onto which respiratory droplets from someone coughing and sneezing could fall," Manning said.
Manning noted that PNG people live in close-knit communities and each household is usually crowded.
"Hugging and shaking hands is our way of life. But now we have to change our lifestyle and adopt a new lifestyle to help us avoid getting sick with Covid-19 and other infectious diseases like tuberculosis. For instance, wave or nod in greeting instead of hugging a friend,” Manning said.
Manning has sounded a warning for all provinces through their provincial administrations and Provincial Health Authorities to work together and ensure the situation in the provinces does not get out of hand.
“There was a lot of work done in planning last year. We expect those provincial response plans to be reviewed if need be and be put into implementation modes as quickly as possible to avert catastrophes. The new wave of the pandemic is more serious than the first wave,” Manning said.
This week, Prime Minister James Marape witnessed the arrival of the vaccines with the Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea John Philips, Health and HIV AIDS Minister Jelta Wong, Agriculture and Livestock Minister John Simon, and the Controller of the PNG Covid-19 National Pandemic Response and Police Commissioner David Manning as well as Secretary for Health Dr Osbourne Liko.
Marape said Australia has pledged to support PNG with another million vaccines. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners are also securing almost 700,000 vaccines for PNG in the next two to three months.
“These vaccines are not compulsory for all citizens but would be available for those who feel that they need to protect themselves against covid-19. Our health workers in the first instance would be given a preference before our rest of us,” Marape said.
The prime minister said he is willing to be the first person to be vaccinated to show that it is safe for anyone to take.
He said the decision to bring the vaccines to the country was not taken lightly, but "due to escalating prevalence of Covid-19 and the exposure of our health workers plus other essential workers, we had to make this call."
“I thank Australian people and their Government for coming to assist us with 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccines. Another 1 million vaccines are being procured for PNG by Australia. PNG, let us not take this sort of help for granted when globally medical supply is tight," Marape said.