Australia gives COVID-19 shots to virus-hit Papua New Guinea

Tanya Simon
March 17, 2021

It comes after PNG's Prime Minister James Marape sounded the alarm about the mass outbreak - requesting Australia look at fast-tracking vaccines for health workers to support the country's strained health system. They have always stood with us and we will always stand with them'.

"We have been assisting with some tests in Papua New Guinea and out of the 500 tests that our health authorities have done from Papua New Guinea 250 have come back positive, so this is a real concern", Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk says.

"While waiting on the bigger supply of vaccines to come in, we need to keep our health workers and defend them from being exposed to COVID-19", Mr Marape said.

Passenger flights from PNG to Cairns are suspended for two weeks, and passenger caps will be cut for flights into Brisbane.

Flights between Port Moresby and Cairns have been suspended and there is now a ban in place on workers flying in and out of Australia.

Morrison said of PNG: "They're our family".

Australia will also be offering more medical support to PNG, with more supplies and vaccines to be shipped out from next week. "We can not risk more people going into those areas and then coming back to Australia".

Australia will seek Quad partners' (India, Japan and US) assistance for the vaccine rollout.

Children sit outside a ward of Port Moresby General Hospital.

"When people are being admitted into hospital in Port Moresby, half of women who are coming in due to pregnancy are positive", Kelly told reporters in Canberra.

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Other PPE equipment, including masks and sanitiser, will be sent to the island nation.

But given the humanitarian crisis gripping PNG, Morrison said he expected and "would hope to get the co-operation out of Europe", which he said was opposed to vaccine protectionism.

Pamela Toliman, a scientist at the PNG Institute of Medical Research which does testing, wrote on Twitter there is a "huge lag in updating this data", and "cases are much higher" than the tally reported on Tuesday.

"We've all said that we need to get vaccines where they're needed".

The country is facing a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Mr Morrison said testing had been ramped up testing across the Torres Strait and implemented pre-departure testing of people coming from PNG.

"We know there are an increasing number of cases in Papua New Guinea at the moment, and any additional support that the federal government can give, whether it's vaccinating health care workers up there, ensuring that their hospitals are safe", she said.

Papua New Guinea is on the brink of the country's biggest health disaster in modern history, its Prime Minister saying the virus has taken hold.

But there are now concerns that the situation in Papua New Guinea could spill over the vast maritime border between the two countries. The AUSMAT team will be part of that analysis, and they will do a critical needs analysis when they arrive next week.

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