Hanuabada, Port Moresby. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades
While the numbers of Covid-19 cases remain low, Papua New Guinea’s limited health infrastructure has authorities worried. They have warned the Port Moresby’s isolation centre may be full by the end of the month if an increase in cases continues.
Papua New Guinea’s provincial hospitals have been told to prepare isolation wards to care for Covid-19 patients.
Papua New Guinea has recorded its biggest daily spike of coronavirus cases, with another eight people diagnosed in Port Moresby.
In the past six days, 18 cases have been identified in the capital, bringing the country’s total to 30.
There are concerns other cases may have been missed and people are being urged to report symptoms.
After registering few cases in previous months, having almost two dozen confirmed in the past week has sent authorities scrambling to prepare for large scale community transmission of the virus.
David Manning, PNG’s Covid-19 pandemic controller and also the police commissioner, said all provincial hospitals should activate isolation facilities for potential Covid patients.
Manning said there was a high likelihood of expanded community transmission.
The majority of the recent cases are linked to an outbreak at the Port Moresby General Hospital, where at least four technicians working at a Covid-19 lab tested positive.
Among the latest cases are three high school students and one university student.
Prime Minister James Marape said Port Moresby would be placed under Stage Three restrictions, including a mandatory use of face masks.
Police and military will be used to advise people on the restrictions and how they should respond to Covid-19.
“Priority will be given to protecting our health workers, as well as police and military who will be involved in defending Port Moresby city from an explosion or blowout of Covid-19,” he said.
Marape said nightclubs may be banned, but churches, restaurants and bars would remain open.
Exact details of the new restrictions and how they will be enforced were yet to be released.
David Manning said the recent rise in the number of cases was “of grave concern”.
“Without strict compliance, cases are likely to rise within this month and this is showing to be true,” Manning said.
Prime Minister Marape has previously warned the country’s health system would not “have the capacity to deal with a widespread outbreak”.
Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands programme at the Lowy Institute, told the ABC in April that PNG’s health system was “on the edge of breaking, if not already broken”.
He said the health crisis could further weaken Port Moresby’s control of the country.
“Institutions in PNG are already doing very little for the average Papua New Guinean,” Pryke said “National identity is already a weak concept.
“There has been a push to move to more province-based control and we might see more of that.”
Of particular concern is the Highlands, where there is already tribal-based violence and conflict over land.
“If the state is less capable of keeping a lid on violence, which it already struggles to do, then the Highlands could descend into lawlessness,” Pryke said.