PORT MORESBY, 10 SEPTEMBER 2021 (THE NATIONAL)—Eight people died from Covid-19 in Papua New Guinea’s Western Province the past week and National Pandemic Response deputy controller Dr Daoni Esorom says it is “highly likely” to be Delta-variant-related.

The grim news comes a week after an outbreak of 22 cases of the highly infectious and deadly Delta cases were revealed in Western on 01 September. Delta was first reported in Western with 12 cases on 18 August and the infections shot up to 30 on 01 September.

While samples of the then 79 new Covid-19 cases have been sent to Australia for genome sequencing to determine if any of the infection was Delta and awaiting results, Western reported 14 new infections on Wednesday.

And the two hospitals in the province – Tabubil and Kiunga – are inundated with Covid-19 patients.

Esorom said: “The situation in Western is quite frightening and the cases will continue to go up. The hospitals are full with patients.”

Also, the border provinces of West Sepik and Western are experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases with 30 new infections reported on Wednesday.

A total of 43 new cases were reported in Papua New Guinea (PNG) on Wednesday – West Sepik (20), Western (14), the National Capital District (five), East New Britain (two), Enga and Southern Highlands (one each).

Dr Esorom said to date 14 Covid-19 deaths were reported in the Ok Tedi Mine area of Tabubil in North Fly – six of the deaths were reported earlier and eight after the Delta surge.

He said samples of the recent tests were taken which would be sent for genome sequencing to confirm whether they were Delta cases.

“There is a high possibility of the cases being Delta because of the current surge and the behaviour of Delta variant which was affecting the younger population, a typical symptom,” he said.

“The Tabubil Hospital is full.

“The Kiunga Hospital was full last week (and) they are just recovering now. But, I am pretty sure the cases will go up.

“We had a consultation with the extractive industry this morning and I could not believe the statistics that the Ok Tedi general manager presented. It is quite frightening what is happening in Western and I am pretty sure it is going to be the same in West Sepik, the National Capital District and many other provinces that are not adhering to the public health protocol measures.

“A team is on the ground identifying the requirements of the Western Provincial Health Authority and Ok Tedi.”

Dr Esorom said a team from the National Control Centre (NCC) was in West Sepik and an emergency medical team would be leaving in two days for West Sepik which was also experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases which could also be related to the Delta variant.

Dr Esorom said the phylogenic analysis of cases have shown that the Delta cases from the NCD (from the Grand Tajima Ship), Western and Madang were all related to Delta from Indonesia’s West Papua.

“We can now confirm that our cases in Papua New Guinea came across the border,” he said.

“This is why we keep on saying that international 600-700km is supposed to be closed – yet our people from Western and East Sepik continue to cross the border and this is what we get.

“We are trying our best despite the challenges.

“There will come a time when we will not have the capacity – so the public health authorities must step up.

“Provinces should not depend on NCC alone but gather resources to have their response going.

“Currently, the five provinces having a surge in cases include Western, West Sepik, NCD, Eastern Highlands and Manus.”

Meanwhile, more than 70 education officers, who attended a week-long conference in Westen last week, returned to Port Moresby without being tested for the Covid-19.

Education Minister Jimmy Uguro, who went with the team, told The National that he flew out of the province before the announcement made by National Pandemic Response Controller David Manning.

An officer from the Education Department said the team stayed for a week and returned to Port Moresby.

He said they were not tested but only had their temperature checked at the airport.

The officer said they were told that Manning would call them in for testing if needed.

The participants comprised provincial education advisers, representatives from key government departments and agencies, Office of Libraries and Archives, Teaching Service Commission, Education Department officials, Church education agency representatives.

The conference was held in Kiunga’s New Century Hotel to discuss the implementation of the National Education Plan 2020-2029.

However, when the team was in Western, Manning said any traveler from Western must be tested negative for Covid-19 before they could leave the province.

Earlier, Manning said the tests had to be made mandatory after 22 Delta cases were confirmed in Western and that there was a high chance of a severe outbreak (or surge) of Delta in the province.

“New directives (control measures) will be out soon,” he said.

“The directives will be for those at border provinces to be tested, now that there is a surge of the Covid-19 cases there.”

The authorities believe the Delta attack in Western is due to border crossings to Indonesia (West Papua) and back to Papua New Guinea.

Currently, some of the officers who were in Western are now in Jiwaka for another programme…..PACNEWS

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