PNG rapid response team steps up Port Moresby tracing after covid spike

People seek medical treatment at the PNG capital's Port Moresby General Hospital as concern grows over the covid spike - reported today to be now up to 30 cases. Image: The National

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Papua New Guinea’s rapid response team of the National Capital District (NCD) is conducting thorough case investigation, contact tracing and testing of contacts amid growing alarm over covid-19 community transmission in the capital of Port Moresby.

The tracing and testing is in collaboration with teams from the Health Department, St John Ambulance and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Papua New Guinea has 27 reported cases of covid-19 with one linked death and three new cases have been identified in NCD that are in isolation, reports Grace Auka-Salmang of the PNG Post-Courier.

READ MORE: PNG covid cases reach 30 as three more announced, reports EMTV

The concern grows as Pacific Media Watch reports that media critics today condemned “disturbing treatment” of news organisations following the sudden spike in covid cases with a cancellation of the Prime Minister James Marape’s press conference.

Veteran media commentator and a former Post-Courier chief executive Bob Howarth warned in a Pacific social media forum:

“PNG is currently experiencing its biggest attack ever on press freedom when its Prime Minister (or some adviser) decided to ban all media (bar the government NBC TV pre-recorded!) from press conference updates on the sudden upsurge in covid-19 cases in a country with a failing health system.”

He called on journalists to challenge the media curb.

‘Cannot cope’ warning
Another Post-Courier senior reporter, Gorethy Kenneth, reports Marape as saying PNG’s medical capacity was not able to handle the covid-19 pandemic – “but the government is trying its utmost best”.

Marape said during a radio talkback show yesterday that PNG only had 177 ICU beds nationwide, 40 or so ventilators and a severe lack of face masks.

Port Moresby, or the NCD (National Capital District), has a population of more than 500,000 people – the last island national capital in the South Pacific.

“The public is reminded that anyone who is experiencing flu-like symptoms, fever, cough, sore throat, body ache or difficulty breathing must stay at home,” Post-Courier journalist Grace Auka-Salmang reports.

The capital’s public health authority (NCDPHA) board chairman David Toua said NCD was now “the epicenter of the epidemic in PNG as it has received the highest number of confirmed cases of covid-19.”

“Due to the high population density, and the way that we live in overcrowded housing situations, community transmission would have a very significant impact,” he said.

“Therefore, NCD thus requires a robust covid-19 response.”

‘Meaningful’ pandemic response
Toua said the PHA was only four and a half months old but it was doing everything possible to ensure continued protection of the people of NCD and PNG to provide a meaningful response to the pandemic.

He said 16 health facilities were also being strengthened to conduct pre-triage and among them, seven urban clinics had trained staff to collect samples to conduct surveillance and to supervise the referral system to manage persons suspected of having covid-19.

“NCDPHA faces many challenges between striking the balance in between providing regular health services and responding to covid-19 epidemic at the expected standard.

“There are pre-existing limitations in infrastructure, staffing and other health system constraints,” he said.

“Repurposing staff and shifting government priority has affected primary health care.

Toua said the public was reminded to follow the health measures including anyone who was sick must stay at home and must stay away from others, and physical distancing of at least 1.5m meters must be adhered to in all public places.

All business houses and offices must have hand washing facilities and make available hand sanitisers.

Temperature checks must be consistently carried out and entry denied to those with symptoms.

  • The PNG health toll free line is 1800 200.
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