PNG health minister appeals for support, compassion, coronavirus outbreak can overwhelm health system

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PORT MORESBY (Post Courier/Pacnews) — Papua New Guinea Minister for Health and HIV/AIDS, Jelta Wong has appealed for support and compassion among the public and immediate communities in East New Britain as rapid response personnel begun work on the Island.

“I know you are worried but stigmatization is not a solution. Stigmatization will worsen the situation,” he said in a statement following the second confirmed Covid-19 case in ENB this week.
The National Covid-19 Taskforce immediately sent three rapid response teams comprising epidemiologists, doctors, nurses, infection prevention and control specialists, logisticians and other support personnel to help the ENB Provincial Health Authority.
“The teams are doing contact tracing, isolating and treating anyone who is sick, collecting samples, quarantining contacts, and maintaining order in the community as responders do their work,” he said.
An initial report from the team has already identified 28 close contacts among family members, workmates and health workers, with nine of them as persons under investigation while 24 samples were collected from 12 persons for testing.
Identifying the source of infection is the main priority to be able to find out the extent of transmission.
Further preventive measures include a complete lockdown of the affected village to prevent any further spread of infection while investigations continue.
Minister Wong further appealed to the public to be mindful of global statistics and the challenges being faced by developed countries with far advanced health systems than PNG.
“The increasing number of cases and deaths reported everyday highlights that Covid-19 remains to be a high risk to Papua New Guinea. Every country is part of the global community and our country shares the risk with the world,” he said.
According to Minister Wong, the fact that the infection was reported in East New Britain showed that the virus could strike anywhere and highlighted the reason for launching an aggressive and vigorous response through the State of Emergency to facilitate that process.
He said PNG will need between 1000 and 30,000 hospital beds if state-of-emergency control measures are not followed.
Wong made this known when giving an update to the members of Parliament during the special parliament sitting last week.
He said in the event there was community transmission detected, it was envisioned that the initial outbreak in urban areas would overwhelm the health system about May to July but would be delayed until about November in rural areas.
“Considering the trend seen in other countries, PNG may face shortfalls of between 1000 to 30,000 hospital beds over the next year,” he said.
“Our health system has limited capacity, experience and resources to manage a potential large-scale response, making the risk of spreading high in the event that an outbreak of Covid-19 occurs in PNG.
“Worldwide, people are promoting social distancing measures which will reduce the number of cases, therefore, I urge [members of Parliament] to show an example by practicing the physical distancing.”
Wong said thousands of deaths may occur across the provinces should there be a Covid-19 outbreak.
“It is important to continue upgrading essential health programs to avoid further stress on current health systems,” he said.
“Currently, capacity-building in health facilities, provincial health authorities and communities for the worst-case scenario is important. “It is expected that a containment and potential mitigation phase for at least another six months from the time of the imported case, to localized transmission and to large scale transmission.”

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