COVID-19 transmission in PNG widespread: Data


Twelve provinces in Papua New Guinea are showing widespread community transmission of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), according to reports and data from health authorities.

They are Morobe, East Sepik, Madang, West Sepik, Enga, Eastern Highlands, Hela,Western Highlands, Southern Highlands, National Capital District (NCD), Central and Western.

Community transmission came after the PNG Covid-19 Health situation report picked up data and delayed reporting of testing and limited contact-tracing activities in the provinces.

Challenges on obtaining swabbing, testing, providing data and contact tracing are still observed, the report stated.

Strategies are being explored to improve and strengthen current responses, including ramping up active surveillance and enhancing testing in order to establish the extent of Delta transmission, the report said.

Increasing vaccination coverage to the high risk/ vulnerable population with priorities for frontline health workers, persons over the age of 45 and persons with underlying medical conditions, including, re-enforcing maintenance of the new normal practices even after vaccination, are also part of the national strategy.
Covid-19 cases are being reported around PNG, with cases reported in 16 of the 22 provinces over the past seven days.

NCD accounted for the highest number of cases, followed by Western, Western Highlands, Eastern Highlands, Morobe, West Sepik and Enga.

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Gulf, Manus, New Ireland, Northern and West New Britain didn’t report in over the past seven days.

Almost 90 per cent of these cases reported were diagnosed in the last 7-14 days, suggesting active (ongoing) community transmission in provinces reporting cases.

The epidemic curve shows notable surge (low peak) with increasing test positivity in Aug-Sept for several provinces, data shows.

There has been an almost three-fold increase in the number of Covid-19 deaths reported in the last seven days, compared to the previous week.

Meanwhile, almost all the Covid-19 patients admitted at the Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) are unvaccinated, chief executive officer Dr Paki Molumi says.

Dr Molumi told The National that 50 Covid-19 patients were admitted at the hospital and the number was increasing daily.

He said 98 percent of those admissions were unvaccinated people, hence, it was important that people were vaccinated to prevent hospitalisation and death.

“The 19-bed isolation ward is fully occupied,” he said.

“I cannot confirm how many Delta variant cases.

“We are managing with the resources available.

“We are recruiting more staff on short term contracts to manage the increasing number of cases so staff remain to continue providing other non Covid-19 services.”

Dr Molumi said the Taurama Aquatic Centre Covid-19 ward was also open and five mild cases were admitted there.

The low vaccination uptake in the communities and among the health workforce was a concern, he said.

He said at the PMGH 72 per cent of the medical staff but less than 10 per cent of the nurses were vaccinated. “This vaccination hesitancy among our frontline staff, especially the nurses, is a concern for us.”

Dr Molumi told The National earlier that the number of cases started increasing in August.

“We have few intensive care unit beds, that’s why we encourage people to vaccinate and reduce transmission to protect our fragile health system,” he said.

In another development, Goroka hospital has seen a rise in Covid-19 patients which has stretched its capacity in bed spaces and oxygen masks, Eastern Highlands Health Authority chief executive officer Dr Joseph Apa says.

Dr Apa told The National that the 40-bed at the Covid-19 isolation centre were all occupied and oxygen cylinders and masks were in short supply.

He said most Covid-19 patients at the isolation centre required oxygen.

Dr Apa said the hospital and PHA had prioritised the items as emergency needs and were doing their best to acquire them. He however said the availability of the oxygen cylinders depended on the supplier Boral Gas in Lae.

The situation is of great concern as the hospital had no capacity to produce oxygen locally.

Dr Apa said awareness was conducted in communities in the province on the need to get vaccinated to be protected from the Covid-19. He said the responsibility and decision to get vaccinated had been left to the people.

He said while there had been a number of confirmed Covid-19-related deaths the true number remained unverified.

Eastern Highlands Provincial Police Commander Supt Michael Welly sent police units to enforce the curfew in Goroka town.

He warned residents, travellers transiting through the province, commuters and people to comply with the terms and conditions of the curfew.

“Anyone found breaching the regulations will be dealt with according to the Pandemic Act,” he said.