Australia calls on the European Union to divert one million of its AstraZeneca vaccine doses to PNG, where COVID-19 is straining the health system.
Australia said on Wednesday it was asking AstraZeneca and the European Union for urgent access to a million doses of its contracted COVID-19 vaccine to send to its northern neighbor, Papua New Guinea (PNG ), which is struggling to contain an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said PNG, a former Australian colony, was “a developing country in desperate need”. Some 8,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine produced in Australia are said to be sent to the Pacific island nation to vaccinate healthcare workers.
PNG has recorded more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 since March 1, almost double its total since the pandemic began a year ago.
But low testing rates have raised concerns that the virus is spreading undetected in the population, and officials fear hospitals across the country will spread. struggle to cope.
“They are our family, they are our friends. They are our neighbors. They are our partners, ”Morrison told reporters in Canberra, as he announced Australia would also send emergency medical teams and supplies of personal protective equipment.
“They have always supported us and we will always support them. It is in the interests of Australia and in the interests of our region. “
PNG Prime Minister James Marape said on Tuesday the country had recorded 97 cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.
In a statement, Amnesty International said it received reports that some hospitals were full or threatened to close new admissions when there was not enough personal protective equipment for medical staff and other liners before. .
“The health crisis in Papua New Guinea has now reached the level we feared a year ago with an increase in the number of cases,” Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International Pacific researcher, said in a statement.
“A combination of a failing health system and inadequate living conditions has created a perfect storm for COVID-19 to thrive in overcrowded informal settlements across the country.”
Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly said hospitals in the capital Port Moresby detected the virus in about half of new patient admissions.
“Half of the women who arrive due to pregnancy are HIV positive,” he added. “We are seeing a large number of frontline health workers in Papua New Guinea falling with COVID-19. These are all signs of a major epidemic in the community.
Cases have also been detected in people returning to Australia from PNG.
Queensland state officials told AFP news agency that about half of its currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients were from Papua New Guinea, while a recent batch of 500 tests sent from Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, showed 50% infection. assess.
In an effort to prevent the virus from spreading, Morrison said Australia was suspending most passenger flights to and from Port Moresby, with exemptions for essential medical and humanitarian travel.
Australian state authorities have also stepped up vaccinations in the Torres Strait Islands this week, some of which are only a short boat ride from western PNG.
Australia has reported more than 29,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, but has largely brought COVID-19 under control, allowing many health restrictions to be relaxed.