‘We’ll have to close the doors’: Medical workers brace for chaos as virus grips PNG

A senior doctor in Papua New Guinea’s health system fears there could be riots in Port Moresby if the main hospital is forced to close its doors because of an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

Increasing concern about the outbreak on Wednesday prompted the Morrison government to commit urgent extra resources to help PNG battle the pandemic including 8000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for health workers as it suspended flights from Port Moresby to Cairns as a result of the spread.

The country’s frontline health services are straining under the impact of the pandemic.Credit:Nine

He said the hospital, PNG’s largest, had only 10 beds in its intensive care unit.

“We just don’t have the space and the facilities to cope with what’s happening on the ground now,” said Mola, talking to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age from quarantine in Cairns after flying out of PNG on Monday to get the vaccine.

“The problem is all the usual patients keep on coming … the sick kids, the women in labour, car accidents, the knife wounds that just arrives at emergency and at the maternity section.

“By the time we get to 50 per cent [of staff testing positive] we’ll have to close the doors. At that point we can’t carry on with the service. We’ll reach a critical point where we have to close the doors and then there will be absolute chaos of course because people will just keep coming but they’ll be turned away at the gate. Then there will be riots, I tell you.”

Prime Minister James Marape was set to announce the details of an isolation strategy his government has favoured rather than a full lockdown.

PNG had appeared to avoid any major outbreaks over the past year to the point where a makeshift COVID-19 field hospital in an indoor sports centre in Port Moresby was shut for six months before being reopened two weeks ago.

PNG-based Caritas aid worker Diane Unagi said Australia’s vaccines were badly needed but it should go hand-in-hand with a public health campaign to convince people to get vaccinated.

She recently recovered from what she believes was COVID-19, although she has not received results yet despite getting tested three weeks ago.

PNG-based Caritas aid worker Diane Unagi with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in December 2019.

“There’s not enough testing done and I definitely think the number of deaths being under 30 is not real,” she said. “I think there’s a whole lot more deaths but they’re not counting them because they’re not testing them.”

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