Fears of PNG Covid-19 spread in Pacific

PAPUA New Guinea has recorded 63 new cases of Covid-19, taking the country's total number of infections to 1492, while the death toll has risen to 16.
Fears of PNG Covid-19 spread in Pacific Fears of PNG Covid-19 spread in Pacific Fears of PNG Covid-19 spread in Pacific Fears of PNG Covid-19 spread in Pacific Fears of PNG Covid-19 spread in Pacific

Staff Reporter

The latest cases were reported in Morobe province, West Sepik, East Sepik, Western Province and in the National Capital District.
 
Forty four of the cases were in the NCD, eight of which are contacts of previously known cases.
 
Earlier in the week, two more cases were also announced in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
 
The latest cases there come as the Bougainville President Ishmael Toroama considers whether to implement a 14 day lockdown to try and stem a surge of coronavirus infections there, Radio New Zealand International reports.
 
Meanwhile PNG's spike in Covid-19 infections has prompted the renewal of the China-Australia friendship debate.
 
Bloomberg reports that with fears growing the virus may spread eastwards to other Pacific nations, the outbreak could have geopolitical implications.
 
An Australian Broadcasting Corporation report said China was assisting Papua New Guinea with a supply of vaccines, citing Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. The government in Port Moresby denied the claim, it said.
 
Meanwhile, Western nations including the US and Australia are ramping up efforts to get alternative immunisations quickly on the ground in the Pacific.
 
According to a World Health Organisation report seen by Bloomberg, "there are currently surges in several provinces across PNG, with major outbreaks in the National Capital District" and provinces bordering Indonesia. Infected patients include a large number of health-care workers, prisoners and people on mine sites, the report said.
 
A separate report from PNG health authorities seen by Bloomberg shows the number of virus cases nearly doubled every week in February.
 
"The virus seems to be ripping through the country and it all seems to have got too hard, too quickly for Papua New Guinea's government to control," said Jonathan Pryke, who heads research on the Pacific region for the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.
 
An emailed request and a call for comment to the Papua New Guinea government was not immediately answered.
 
Government data shows the virus has spread to Bougainville, taking it from the west of the country to the east.
 
"That is such a porous border, with a lot of communities that live on either side of it," Pryke said. 
 
"There's a big concern that this is going to keep moving east," toward the Solomon Islands and other areas of the Pacific, he said.
 
The surge could prompt the government to consider getting China to supply its vaccine to the country.
 
The US, Australia and New Zealand are leading efforts to implement logistics to help build a vaccine program in the region. Financial Times has reported that the US is working with Japan, India and Australia to develop a plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to countries in Asia as part of a broader strategy to counter China's influence.
 
Australia, which is in the midst of worsening ties with Beijing that have spilled over into trade reprisals from its largest trading partner, has committed more than $156 million to the Gavi alliance that will help immunize high-risk populations in developing countries, including most of the Pacific. It's also donating another $A500 million over three years to Pacific nations to bolster the logistics and supply chains it implement the program.
 
However, there are questions about its ability to help get the vaccine delivered quickly, especially as it only began its own domestic roll out last month.
 
According to Pryke, Papua New Guinea might lose its patience as the virus spreads and turn to China for its vaccine, prompting other Pacific nations to follow its lead.
 
"If Australia is not the one to be seen leading the way in assisting the roll out in vaccinations in a pandemic that's been going for almost a year, that's a bad look," he said.
 

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