Australia restricts travel to Papua New Guinea

PNG Covid: Australia bans flights from Papua New Guinea over spiralling coronavirus cases

"PNG needs a fighting chance to beat this, and frontline doctors and nurses could be the difference between keeping this under control or utter catastrophe for PNG's health system", said Marc Purcell, chief executive of The Australian Council for International Development, which represents aid agencies. He said mass testing had been done at the Ok Tedi Mine and nearly half the results were positive.

'The capacity to manage Covid-19 in a developing country is starkly different to what it is in an advanced country like Australia, ' Mr Morrison said.

"They're our family, they're our friends, they're our neighbours, they're our partners".

'I think Australians understand that that is one of our responsibilities and as an advanced nation that has had such incredible success in managing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, I think they would be generous in spirit, ' he said.

Charter flights from PNG are also being suspended (with limited exemptions for medevac and the like) and the passenger caps on flights from Port Moresby to Brisbane are being cut by a quarter.

But he warned PNG was not out of the woods yet, and frontline health workers would need a second vaccine dose 12 weeks after their first.

But given the humanitarian crisis gripping PNG, Morrison said he expected and "would hope to get the co-operation out of Europe", which he said was opposed to vaccine protectionism.

"Even if we get the vaccine this week, it will only start producing immunity in two or three weeks' time", he told 7.30.

'This is not Australia seeking to do this for our own direct benefit, although we've contracted them and you would expect them to be supplied'. The call for AstraZeneca vaccine to be diverted to Papua New Guinea comes amid debate over "vaccine nationalism" after Italy blocked the export of 300,000 doses to Australia.

The FIFO ban comes after Papua New Guinea miner Ok Tedi Mining enforced a two-week ban on its worldwide charter flights last week due to its personnel testing positive for COVID-19 during hotel quarantine in Cairns.

Officials in Queensland told AFP that about half the state's hospitalised Covid-19 patients had come from Papua New Guinea, while a recent batch of 500 tests sent from Port Moresby showed a 50 percent infection rate.

He said "the status of our public health system is that what we have in our country is not adequate to sustain a full-blown outbreak, that is of pandemic nature".

The government will make a formal request to AstraZeneca to access one million doses for PNG (paid for by Australia).

Other PPE equipment, including masks and sanitiser, will be sent to the island nation.

Canberra will suspend all travel to and from PNG from Wednesday midnight, he added.

The closest islands in the Torres Strait are a short dingy ride to the country, and leaders in the region say an outbreak in one of the communities would be devastating. Vaccinations will be undertaken by the Queensland government. Australia has already suspended flights from the mine.

Air freight services will continue.

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