Port Moresby general hospital’s boss said the rise in Covid cases will see patient numbers rise ‘beyond our capacity’. Photograph: ChildFund

PORT MORESBY, 08 MARCH 2021 (THE GUARDIAN) — Papua New Guinea is battling to control a surge in coronavirus cases across the archipelago, just as hospitals are shutting their doors because they have run out of money.
The country’s crowded capital, Port Moresby, is the epicentre of the latest outbreak.
The city recorded just five cases for all of January, and 124 for February. But 108 cases have been confirmed in the first four days of March as community transmission accelerates.
PNG has reported only 1,492 confirmed cases for the entire pandemic, but the actual caseload is believed to be many times higher.
Fewer than 48,000 tests have been conducted across the country of nearly 9 million people since the beginning of the pandemic, and, in many remote parts of the country, there is no testing capacity at all. PNG has not yet begun a vaccination programme.
Health authorities are also concerned about a spike in cases in PNG’s huge western province, which links the country to Indonesia, and has a sea border with Australia.
Travel between PNG and Australian islands in the Torres Strait is usually unrestricted but has been suspended for the pandemic.
But at least six cases of Covid-19 detected in hotel quarantine in Queensland are in workers who have flown in from the Ok Tedi mine in PNG’s western province. Queensland’s chief health officer, Jeannette Young, said the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout would be fast-tracked across Australian islands in the Torres Strait.
“I’ll be going through and doing the whole community on Boigu, Saibai and Badu, they’re the three islands that are closest to Papua New Guinea,” Young said.
The chief executive of Port Moresby general hospital, Paki Molumi, said PNG’s already-fragile healthcare system would collapse if the current spike in Covid-19 cases surged further.
“We are testing all our staffs that have symptoms. There are many others out there in the community who have symptoms but are not coming in to be tested and continue to spread the virus. That is a big worry for us,” Molumi said.
“Soon our clinics and hospitals will be flooded with patients beyond our capacity.”
A netball stadium, converted as a Covid clinic at the beginning of the pandemic, has been re-opened to treat overflow cases.
The governor of Port Moresby, Powes Parkop, said the capital’s healthy authority did not have enough funding, manpower or resources to deal with the latest surge in infections, and warned the capital would have to go into lockdown if confirmed cases reached 1,000.
Across the country, some hospitals have already closed, or closed departments because of funding cuts and surging demand. Boram hospital in East Sepik has closed its emergency department.
Mount Hagen hospital in the country’s highlands has received about one-third of the funding required to keep its services running, so it has been forced to close adult and children’s outpatient services from next week.
“All services provided at the hospital are essential and whilst we do not want to close any of them, there just isn’t enough money to keep everything open”, chairman of the Western Highlands provincial health authority board, David Guinn said.
In the highlands regions, Mendi hospital was set to close its operating theatres because it had run out of anaesthetic agents and lab reagents.
The Wabag hospital is also on the verge of closing due to lack of funding.
Five staff from Moresby general’s obstetrics and gynaecology department have tested positive to Covid-19 but the ward will stay open because it is the only labour ward serving the entire city, the Central and Gulf provinces.
David Manning, PNG’s police commissioner and the country’s pandemic controller, has urged people to isolate where possible, practice good hygiene, and get tested if symptomatic.
“This is a lesson for all provinces throughout PNG to stop sleeping and step up because Covid-19 is spreading fast while people are relaxing and taking it as a joke,” he said….. PACNEWS

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