PORT MORESBY, 20 AUGUST 2020 (THE AUSTRALIAN)—A Chinese mining company in Papua New Guinea claims to have immunised its employees against COVID-19 in an apparent vaccination trial as Australia and China prepare for a new “vaccine diplomacy” battle for influence across the region.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Wednesday vowed to help the nation’s “Pacific family” and key Southeast Asian partners gain access to a successful coronavirus vaccine through Australia’s foreign aid programme.
The Australian has learned China may have begun trialling a coronavirus vaccine in the region using employees of its state-owned enterprises as guinea pigs.
PNG Health Minister Jelta Wong said his department was investigating a claim by Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel that its PNG-based employees had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
An official “vaccination statement” issued by the company to the PNG Health Department declares: “Forty-eight employees of Ramu Nickel Management Limited have been vaccinated with SARS-COV-2 vaccine on 10 August, 2020.”
The statement, in English and Mandarin, warns that any COVID testing of its employees within a week of the claimed vaccination “may show positive results” due to antibodies produced in the vaccine recipient’s body.
“If they need to be tested again for COVID-19, it is suggested to be conducted at least seven days after the vaccination date,” it says.
The Chinese government has given the green light for two ­potential vaccines to be trialled by state-owned firms with employees overseas, and another to be trialled by the nation’s military.
Ramu NiCo is run by one of China‘s largest state-owned enterprises, the Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd.
Prime Minister Morrison on Wednesday said he had already spoken to PNG Prime Minister James Marape, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Indonesian President Joko Widodo about rolling out a successful vaccine ­regionally.
“We have a regional role to play here as well as a domestic role … and we will be living up to all of those responsibilities as we progress this day,” he said.
“And look, to be honest, in the Pacific that’s expected.”
He said the rest of the world also looked towards Australia to provide that support in the region.
The commitment came after the government locked in a guarantee for the Aust­ralia-wide supply of the frontrunner vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University.
Australian Council for International Development chief executive Mark Purcell said Australia needed to be generous in supporting regional neighbours to free themselves of the corona­virus.
“There will be intense vaccine diplomacy and it is in Australia’s national interest to supply vac­cines free to our neighbours in Southeast Asia and the Pacific,” he said.
“In order to do this effectively, new resources are required. Otherwise, we risk running down other critical areas of development co-operation and compromising existing relationships.”
PNG — Australia’s nearest neighbour and biggest aid recipient — is being hit by a COVID-19 wave, with 347 confirmed infections and three dead.
However, the true number of infections is likely to be far higher, with inadequate testing, poor health services and high levels of poverty making it difficult for authorities to get on top of the ­disease.
PNG’s Health Minister said his country welcomed Morrison’s commitment.
“There is an understanding that if a vaccine is found, we will be working together to make sure we spread everywhere,” Wong said.
“Prime Minister Morrison has been vocal to the big countries that when a vaccine is found, it should be spread around at the lowest value, so that all small countries can participate,” he said…..PACNEWS

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