Covid-infected PNG doctor arrested in Solomon Islands as border crosser

Post-Courier front page 240122
How the Post-Courier reported the case of the alleged illegal border crossing doctor today. Image: Post-Courier screenshot APR

By Gorethy Kenneth in Port Moresby

A Papua New Guinean doctor, who is alleged to be covid-19 positive, has been arrested and charged in Solomon Islands for illegally crossing the border.

The doctor, from Bougainville and employed at Nonga Provincial Hospital in East New Britain province, was arrested and charged in the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara, for illegally crossing, authorities from both countries have said.

Solomon Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare made reference to the case in a statement he had made, saying the doctor was now being quarantined.

Sogavare had, in his covid-19 update address to Solomon Islands on January 18, said: “…according to our contact tracing information, the index case that brought in the infection to Pelau is a medical doctor from Papua New Guinea who hails from Tasman Island and has traditional ties with the people of Pelau.

“This doctor with nine other people, including members of his family crossed the border illegally from Tasman to come to Paleu on 9th January 2022 and it is quite disturbing that such a highly qualified person a medical doctor, blatantly disregarded our laws, breached our covid-19 regulations, and crossed our border illegally.”

“He has now started a community transmission of covid-19 to his relatives and people in Pelau.

“It is extremely disappointing that the relatives of this doctor in Pelau completely disregarded the instructions from the government to not allow any person from the other side of the border to land at or stay in any of their villages and homes.

“By allowing the doctor to enter the village they have provided the platform to start the community transmission of covid-19 in Pelau.

In this regard the relatives of this doctor have also breached the covid-19 by allowing this doctor and his family to land and stay in Pelau and started the community transmission of covid-19.”

Confirmed by Bougainville
Autonomous Bougainville Government Health Secretary Dr Clement Totavun has confirmed that the doctor, from Tasman Island, works at Nonga Hospital, and travelled to Bougainville during Christmas, got on a ship to Tasman and then on to Pelau in Solomon Islands.

“I have been advised by my covid-19 team that this is true.

“The doctor from Tasman who works at Nonga General Hospital, Rabaul, came here during Christmas and got on the ship to Tasman and on to Pelau,” Dr Totavun said.

“He was arrested by Solomon Island police for crossing the border, which is currently closed, and is currently in Honiara. Doctors at Honiara Hospital have contacted our CEO Buka Hospital and confirmed.

“I have alerted our surveillance team to check out Tasman in the coming week as the virus might be spreading there,” Dr Totavun said.

Buka Hospital chief executive officer Dr Tommy Wotsia told the Post-Courier he was advised of the reports.

Traditional border crossing banned
Traditional border crossing between Bougainville and Solomon Islands has been banned since November last year following claims that Bougainvilleans had been smuggling arms into that country to arm and train Malaita islanders seeking to overthrow the Sogavare government.

Bougainville Police Commissioner Francis Tokura said he confirmed with Solomon Islands police about the incident but could not elaborate further.

Nonga Hospital chief executive officer Dr Ako Yap and his deputy Dr Patrick Kiromat also confirmed the doctor was working with them and had been on holiday since December.

They said they had not been officially notified of the incident involving the doctor in Honiara but said he was due to return to work soon.

Gorethy Kenneth is a senior journalist on the PNG Post-Courier. Republished with permission.

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