Covid-19 red alert over PNG ‘super spreader’ independence events

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Maprik, East Sepik, independence rally
The huge crowd at the Maprik, East Sepik, gathering yesterday to hear Prime Minister James Marape speak at the 46th Independence celebrations. Image: The National

By Lulu Mark in Port Moresby

Ten people have died from Papua New Guinea’s covid-19 pandemic and 203 new cases were reported in five days from September 9 as National Pandemic Response Deputy Controller Dr Daoni Esorom made a red alert call on Independence Day “super spreader”  events.

“Papua New Guineans are just not heeding our calls to adhere strictly to public health protocols like masking up and keeping social distancing at the mass events,” he said.

“There is a high risk of a surge in infections in the coming weeks and months.”

Esorom urged provinces to be proactive in their covid-19 response.

“There were shows in Goroka, Enga, Western Highlands and other provinces despite the National Control Centre advice not to proceed.

“If the events result in a surge of covid-19 cases, the provincial health authorities and administration must be fully responsible. These are super-spreader events,” he said.

“Money will not run away. At this time [in the face of the Delta variant threat] gatherings should be limited.”

Appeal to the people
He appealed to the people — whether they believed that covid-19 was there or not, believed in conspiracy theories or in not being vaccinated — there were two strategies needed to prevent a big surge in the country.

“The first is observing strictly to the Niupela Pasin (New Normal) which was nothing more than listen and follow.

“Niupela Pasin is a public health and social intervention that in the long-term will definitely reduce the number of cases.

“At the same time they are cost effective strategies.

“It will not cause a lot of money but in the event that we do not follow them,there will definitely be a big surge of the covid-19 infections in Papua New Guinea.

“If we have to get ourselves out of the epidemic, we need to vaccinate ourselves, and everyone.”

In an update on Wednesday, NCC Incident Manager Dr Melinda Susapu said two covid-19 deaths were reported on Monday on the back of 130 new cases (120 in Western, three in Hela, two in the National Capital District (NCD) and one each in Morebe, Eastern Highlands, New Ireland, Madang and Jiwaka).

Deaths now 204
She said the two deaths were from Western Province which brought the total cumulative deaths to 204.

The total number of covid-19 cases in the country was 18,542 of which 17,892 had recovered and 448 cases still active.

“NCC had yet to receive the samples that were sent to the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, to confirm whether the covid-19 cases reported were of the delta variant because the institute was not able to run tests for the samples (Australia is also experiencing a surge in cases).

“Of the 130 new cases, 24 were re-infection cases (22 in Western and two in NCD which means these people had contracted covid-19 some five or more months ago and these data will help in understanding the transmission dynamics of covid-19 and whether it was characteristic of Delta.

“Only eight of the 22 provinces are reporting regularly,” she said.

Susapa said due to delays in the reports the actual situation in provinces could be grossly underestimated.

Reporting gaps
“The surveillance teams are constantly identifying reporting gaps and are working with provinces to ensuring the discrepancies are minimised,” she added.

Susapu said the total number of covid-19 tests done to date in the country was 182,403 “which is very low”.

Esorom said it was important that health facilities were conducting testing and people should go for testing because testing was necessary “for us to understand the extent of the spread and for us to respond appropriately”.

“It is taking too long for the genome sequencing of samples sent to Australia,” he said.

“Hence, the NCC is working with partners to enable the PNG Institute of Medical Research (IMR) to do that by next month.”

Lulu Mark is a reporter for The National. Republished with permission.

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