Port Moresby may need to expand covid isolation facilities, warns doctor

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Street market masks
An enterprising woman mask maker in a Port Moresby street market as a demand for recyclable covid protection grows in the capital. Image: PMC screenshot of EMTV News video

By Lulu Mark in Port Moresby

Port Moresby may need to expand its covid-19 isolation facilities quickly and effectively in case a big spike in cases occurs, a doctor says.

Rita Flynn isolation facility manager Dr Gary Nou said it would be a disaster if the spread of covid-19 in the capital city continued to increase “exponentially”.

He said the Rita Flynn facility had 50 beds and 38 patients on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Al Jazeera coronavirus live updates – WHO says ‘vaccine nationalism’ cannot beat the virus

The facility can accommodate 76 beds, and possibly be stretched to 100 if needed. But it cannot exceed 100.

The number of cases in Port Moresby reached 139 on Wednesday (the national total was 163) – with the number of active cases well above 50.

Dr Nou said one of the biggest problems faced at Rita Flynn was sanitation.

The facility has only four toilets for men and four for women.

Room for up to 100 people
He said the facility might have to isolate up to 100 people at any one time.

There is an option of using the Taurama Aquatic Indoor Centre and hospitals as isolation centres.

“If we don’t isolate (positive cases), we are letting the infection spread in the community,” Dr Nou said.

One plan was to have mild cases isolated in a bigger facility, moderate cases isolated at Rita Flynn, and the critically sick isolated at the Port Moresby General Hospital or in an intensive care unit facility.

The trend globally is that 85 percent of the cases are mild and asymptomatic, and 15 per cent require some form of medical care, with 5 per cent of those requiring critical to high dependency care.

“Say we have 1000 positive cases, 15 per cent of that (150) will need oxygen or some kind of therapy or care, and 5 percent of that will need to go to the Port Moresby General Hospital,” he said.

“Even 1000 cases is too much.

‘Flatten the curve’
“That’s why we keep telling people to flatten the curve by washing hands, wearing mask and maintain social distancing.

“It is about slowing the spread so that we don’t have the hospitals overwhelmed. We can manage slowly.

“We need to slow down the spread so that not many people will go to the hospital at the same time.”

He also pointed out that there were also non-coronavirus patients to think about who needed special care.

“If the Intensive Care Unit is full of covid-19 patients, a snakebite patient who also needs ventilation may die because all the ventilators are taken up,” he said.

Meanwhile, acting Health Secretary Dr Paison Dakulala said the surge in cases in Port Moresby, Morobe and other centres was worrying.

He said the capacity of the Rita Flynn facility could be expended but the problem was the lack of sanitation.

Dr Dakulala said work led by the NCD Health Authority to establish swabbing and testing sites in the city was continuing.

Lulu Mark is a reporter for The National newspaper in Port Moresby.

Spike in Cases
Where the 163 covid-19 cases in Papua New Guinea are dispersed across the country. Graphic: The National
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