Anti-vaxxer attacks on PNG health workers force closure of Lae clinics

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Woman at closed Malahang Health Centre
A woman seeking treatment from Malahang Health Centre in Lae was forced to go home because clinics have closed their gates since Monday morning. Image: Loop PNG

By Carmella Gware in Lae

Urban clinics in Papua New Guinea’s second city Lae have closed for an indefinite period following attacks on health workers.

Anti-vaxxers have been verbally or physically attacking health workers over false claims of state mandatory vaccinations against the covid-19 pandemic.

Health workers and support staff manning facilities around the city have reported incidents of stone throwing, swearing and threats to their personal safety, with some people viewing them as “agents of a forced covid-19 vaccine”.

The National reported at the weekend on an attack on a three-member ambulance crew by people last Thursday wrongly believing St John Ambulance staff were administering vaccines.

A surge in covid misinformation and disinformation on social media is hampering health authorities in their work.

While the Morobe Provincial Health Authority is yet to advise residents about the crisis, health workers say nobody is manning the clinics as they have all been asked to stay at home until further notice.

A visit to the Malahang and Butibam clinics revealed that similar notices were posted saying: “Haus sik bai pas inap ol bosman/bosmeri i tok orait lo open gen”. (Hospital will close until approval is received from bosses.)

The next option for residents is to go to the overcrowded ANGAU Memorial Provincial Hospital or visit private clinics and pharmacies.

Barely 1 percent vaccinated
Asia Pacific Report reports only 1.2 percent of the nine million Papua New Guineans are vaccinated against covid-19.

According to the John Hopkins University covid dashboard, 29,715 cases of covid and 370 deaths have been reported on Papua New Guinea but health officials fear the real toll is far higher because of limited testing and records.

John Hopkins has reported that the total death toll from covid-19 has now passed five million globally.

A "closed under bosses' orders" sign in Lae
A “closed under bosses’ orders” sign in Tok Pisin at a Lae medical clinic. Image: Loop PNG
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