Papua New Guinea’s response to COVID-19

Papua New Guinea’s response to COVID-19

By Charles Dufour

Charles Dufour began his Palms placement as Philosophy Lecturer in January 2019 at the Good Shepherd Seminary Banz, PNG, teaching first year philosophy subjects.

Global impact

Covid-19 has paralysed the world with a huge number of untimely deaths within a very short period of time. It has fundamentally challenged the global socio-political system as well as the psychological and economic stability of many people and nations. For instance, in the United States more people have died than expected. COVID -19 has not only claimed the lives of people but has also infected two cats in New York City here.  Such a situation is a cause of concern for anyone regardless of political, social, race, or religious affiliation. While the impact of COVID-19 is globally devastating news, some countries such as Australia and Papua New Guinea are recovering rapidly from the pandemic. A recent survey shows that there are no new cases of COVID-19 in South Australia and 92 percent of infected cases have fully recovered from the virus here.    

Papua New Guinea’s response

This write up is mainly to highlight Papua New Guinea’s response to COVID-19. Papua New Guinea’s recorded its first case of Covid-19 on March 13, 2020, and the National Executive Council immediately declared a State of Emergency followed by band on the movement of people, vehicles, flights and other necessary measures taken by the Government here.  Thereafter the media predicted a wide spread contamination of coronavirus in Papua New Guinea because Papua New Guinea’s poor health facilities in addition to the populations not being able to  observe social distance requirement and other preventive precaution methods imposed by the government here.  Despite the prediction things have not been that bad compared to other countries.

Unlike Italy, Spain, and United States; Papua New Guinea has not registered a single death since the outbreak of Covid-19. Officially, only eight people have been tested positive to COVID-19 from a population of about eight million people here. A total of four people out of the eight have since recovered while the results of the rest four is not known yet.

An account of the Eight positive cases

The situation of the eight people contracted by COVID-19 is understood as follows:  On April 26, 2020, the Police Minister Bryan Kramer gave details of the eight cases infected by COVID-19 in the following here

First case of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea was confirmed and announced by Prime Minister Marape on March 20, 2020 here involving an Australian expatriate who was tested positive and later tested negative in Australia. The second case was a woman from East Britain who was tested for COVID-19 three consecutive times.  The result of the first test was positive but the second and third test were negative. Subsequent follow up was conducted to ensure that her contacts were not also infected. Contact tracing led to 584 people associated to her who also tested negative. The third case was the ENB man here who tested positive and subsequently two other test results showed negative. Like the woman in East Britain, 15 relatives of this man were tested of COVID-19 and the results were all negative.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth cases were located in Western Province. Their samples were collected and sent to Brisbane for testing but they are still waiting for the results as at the time of this write up.   The seventh case was the NCD’s quarantine officer here whose sample was taken on April 9, 2020 and sent to Brisbane and results came back positive on 16 April. This is the only case that showed the female “contracted the virus from her husband, the immigration officer who on February 15, returned from Colombo in Sri Lanka” according to available information. For this case a contact tracing led to 725 contacts from her close relatives and friends. The results returned negative from Brisbane according to the State of Emergency Controller here

The eighth case was of  that of an Asaro female  who was 45- years-old here from Eastern Highlands. She tested positive to COVID-19 on 21st April 2020 at Goroka IMR. Contact tracing of 16 samples from her close friends and staff at the clinic were collected and sent to Brisbane. Results of her second test and that of family and staff have not been released.    

Can the world learn from PNG’s methodology?

What is actually happening in this COVID-19 concerning socio-cultural and psychological environment? Obviously, no one has come up with a detailed protocol of the medical set up during the isolation period except the general enforcement of quarantine, drinking of hot water with lemon, ginger and the usual precaution advice taken for any other flu in Papua New Guinea. Scientists worldwide are engaged and looking for a lasting solution. However, while the health system in Papua New Guinea is poor compared to developed countries, one should stop and think critically and examine the medications that have been administered to the eight COVID- 19 cases. Perhaps, the world has to learn from Papua New Guinea’s medicinal methodology and the quarantined methodology. 

In Papua New Guinea, the country was lockdown when COVID -19 started. Schools, churches, and businesses were closed. Transport and flights were also cancelled. People who relied on daily work to sustain themselves were more exposed to hunger and misconduct. For instance, the government imposed a ban on the selling of butternuts which resulted in clandestine and black market operation. While the government is doing its best to protect its people, it is a moral obligation for all citizens to take responsibility to protect each other. In Banz, the market which is the heart of the town is opened from 7am and closed at 2pm. People are encouraged not to shake hands as one of the social distance precautions, but this has been unsuccessful exercise because people are still touching each other through fist or elbow as a sign of unity and support in a time of pandemic.  

While public functions have been suspended, people are still meeting in their own way. Hygiene which is one of the most recommended weapons to avoid COVID-19 has been observed at most of the common places. The main centre at Mount Hagen called Hagen Central here has taken seriously the protocol of the State of Emergency.  The temperature of each client is tested; a specific place for checking point is clearly allocated for customers which are at least one metre apart. Food baskets are emptied and cleaned soon after use. Hands are sprayed with sanitiser and only a manageable number of customers are allowed to enter the centre at any given time.

Plans to reopen the country

The country is aware of COVID-19 and consciously prepared for any eventuality. One does not know how effective things are in the remote areas, villages without roads or proper communication and how prepared they are to avoid COVID-19. At least the government has taken the responsibility to protect the nation although some of the protocols are not successfully followed by the citizens.  Based on the measures employed by the government and the unexpected rate of transmission of COVID-19, Prime Minister James Marape announced the government intention to reopen the country to business here .  As at today, Papua New Guinea has not suffered any devastating loss from COVID-19  even though all precautionary measures are still in place.

Featured image: 2020 Seminarians at Good Shepherd Seminary Banz, PNG

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