Delta variant spreads in PNG


Three Covid-19 Delta cases have been reported in Western Province and Papua New Guinea Health Minister Jelta Wong says the priority now is to ensure provinces are prepared to manage the highly infectious disease.

The Delta variant infections were confirmed by the National Control Centre (NCC) in a media conference Tuesday.

Presenting the Papua New Guinea health sector report in Parliament, Wong said it had been a difficult 18 months of preparing for and managing Covid-19 operations and enforcement that included quarantine of international passengers, contact tracing, isolating cases, updating the public and the vaccination rollout programmes.

“The current fear and concern is Delta, which is already in PNG. A nurse in Madang tested positive for Delta, suggesting that she could have been infected through border transmission with Indonesia. Contact tracing is underway to determine if Delta has spread,” he said.

He said frontline health workers should be protected through training, steady supply of personal protective equipment and vaccination though vaccine hesitancy in the health workforce was a challenge.

“We have three types of vaccines – the two-dose Astra Zeneca and Sinopharm, and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J),” he said, adding that 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca were donated by Australia, 132,000 doses from the Covax-Facility and 146,000 doses donated by New Zealand through Covax, 226,000 doses of Sinopharm donated by China and 504,000 doses of J&J from the United States via Covax. AstraZeneca doses have been provided to all provinces and we are in the process of rolling out Sinopharm and J&J doses on demand.

“J&J will be rolled out in three tranches with border provinces first in the next three weeks accompanied by an intense communications campaign to encourage vaccination.

A total of 3 million doses through Covax is expected this year.

“This will cover 20 per cent of PNG’s eligible population. As infection risks grow, there must be greater acceptance of AstraZeneca which had a shelf life of six months and the J&J 4.5 months.”

Pandemic response deputy controller Dr Daoni Esorom said the yet to be confirmed causes of a number of deaths where Delta cases had been reported had “prompted us to issue a strong warning for people to be vigilant”.

“A directive was issued to the Modilon Hospital in Madang and Port Moresby General Hospital to run Covid-19 tests on the corpses and everyone that present themselves at the hospital with symptoms of respiratory illnesses,” he said.

“The three new Delta cases reported in Western means PNG’s Delta cases is now at 12. But the numbers could be higher due to lack of testing. To date, eight Delta cases were reported in the National Capital District, one in Madang and the three now in Western.

“The cases were mild to moderate and the infected have recovered, except the first case of the ship captain (a Filipino) who is still in hospital because he has other underlying medical conditions.”

Dr Esorom said currently, phylogenic tests were conducted on the three Delta cases from Western to determine whether they were the same virus ravaging Indonesia.

“We believe there is local transmission of the Delta in Kiunga and North Fly District. If we have a Delta surge, we will not be able to handle it,” he said.

“The level of Covid-19 testing has dropped since March and it is really low in the country at the moment. Our vaccination uptake too is very low. If we have low levels of testing, then we would not know the real extent of the spread of Covid-19 and Delta variant to help us in the response.

“With low vaccination, there is a potential of a high surge of Delta variant cases in the unvaccinated population. There are enough testing kits in provinces and health facilities should start triaging and conducting Covid-19 tests.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health and HIV/AIDS Jelta Wong says the new National Health Plan (NHP) 2021-2030 will require K42 billion(US$11.9 billion) to implement.

Wong said the plan was focused on strengthening primary healthcare and improving access for the rural majority with increased specialist care and greater community participation.

He said this would cover the cost of increasing the health workforce from 11,000 people to 25,000 by 2030 and key infrastructure investment including building new hospitals in Hela, Jiwaka, Central and Gerehu in Port Moresby and rebuilding hospitals in Daru, Kimbe, Manus, Mendi and Mt Hagen.

“As a responsible Government we are committed to fully support and resource the new NHP from 2022 fiscal year onwards in order to see a paradigm shift in the delivery of health services our people deserve,” he said.

Wong said the NHP was approved by the Government in principle on 14 July and was expected to be finalised shortly so that implementation could commence.