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The Papua New Guinea government has made mask wearing compulsory in the capital Port Moresby as coronavirus cases continue to rise but one local says the messaging is unclear and masks are expensive.
PNG has now recorded 31 cases, with the majority of the recent cases linked to an outbreak at the Port Moresby General Hospital, where at least four technicians working at a COVID-19 lab tested positive.
Instead of implementing a strict lockdown this week, the Emergency Controller David Manning said their strategy relied on Port Moresby residents taking more responsibility themselves, with social distancing and compulsory mask wearing.
“Masks is one way we can mitigate the risk of transmission,” he said.
But local Port Moresby woman Nahum Gima told Pacific Beat that she feels the government has not been clear with the messaging around the masks.
“They could do a better job a better job of clearly communicating regarding the COVID-19 cases and what's happening... there's not a lot of clarity,” she said.
Gima said she received no communication about the best safety practices on how to wear a mask or how to take care of one.
“We can't do much because most Papua New Guineans take pubic transport... where it's crowded... masks are our only hope,” she told Pacific Beat.
She said the masks she has seen in stores are retailing for three kinas (AUD$1.20) which she says is too expensive for many of the city's residents.
“[The government] could subsidise it... it's a lot for the Papua New Guineans who don't go to work,” she said.
Meanwhile, Health workers from Australia and other parts of the world are being asked to go to Papua New Guinea as the country experiences an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Local authorities are worried about community transmission because of a shortage of health workers and hospital beds so the call for international emergency medical teams will see them help with future isolation, triage and infection control.
At least four lab technicians at the Port Moresby General Hospital tested positive last week and several other cases confirmed in recent days have been linked to them.
The COVID-19 Incident Manager for the World Health Organisation in PNG, Sean Casey, says it's still not known how lab technicians working at the Port Moresby COVID-19 testing lab, were infected.
“We clearly have a situation of local transmission occurring in Port Moresby and at the moment we still don't have very large-scale testing in the city, so we don't really know what the scale of transmission is,” he said.
The Acting Health Secretary Dr Paison Dakulala says just over 9500 people in Papua New Guinea have been tested for COVID-19 and that is set to expanded in coming days.
“Test, test, test. That's very, very important,” he said.
Casey says while they have testing supplies, they are facing issues.
“The challenge is overcoming fear and stigma. Both of health workers to collect the specimens and also from the patients. There's still a low risk perception related to COVID19 in Papua New Guinea, so people are less likely to come forward for testing.”
Most of the cases in PNG so far have been mild and there isn't evidence of an increase in respiratory cases or death yet.
But the country's leaders have been open about the fact it can't handle a widespread outbreak.
The Prime Minister James Marape said PNG has about 40 ventilators and 500 doctors for a population of more than 8 million.
A call this week was made by the WHO on behalf of the PNG Government, for emergency teams of doctors and health workers to travel to PNG to help.
“We're waiting for teams to respond, there are many international medical teams around the world including in our region in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji,” Casey said.
“These teams come in, they don't rely on local resources and they can imbed within existing health facilities or establish stand-alone isolation and treatment facilities, if that's what's required down the line.”
The first teams are expected to be operational in about a month.
“Many of these teams rely on clinicians who work day to day in hospitals, so in a pandemic it can be difficult to get some of those people release, there are travel restrictions and then quarantine,” Casey said.
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