Health officials in Papua New Guinea are desperately calling on people to take the Covid-19 vaccine as the country records its first case of the extremely contagious Delta variant.
The country’s deputy Pandemic Response Controller Dr Daoni Esorom said vaccine hesitancy remained high despite numerous calls from the authorities for people to get vaccinated.
“A recent survey found that 62 per cent of our people do not think they will catch Covid-19, and that is why they have not come forward to be vaccinated,” Dr Esorom said.
“A 65-year-old ship captain from the Philippines, when tested positive, was under quarantine at a hospital in Port Moresby.”
He said the positive Covid-19 case with the Delta mutation was confirmed through genome sequencing.
“The positive Delta case is the captain of the cargo ship Grand Tajima (which) departed from the Banjarmasin Port, Kalimanta province in Indonesia,” he said.
“He is currently in quarantine and in a stable condition.
“As a precaution, six people who accompanied (him) to shore on the pilot boat also went into immediate quarantine.
“Five of the people in quarantine are Papua New Guineans, and one from the Philippines. All six have so far tested negative to Covid-19. They will be retested after 14 days.”
The ship arrived with a crew of 16, six of whom have tested positive. Two are admitted in the isolation ward at the Port Moresby General Hospital.
“Four others who tested positive but are not showing symptoms are in quarantine on board the ship. The remaining eight crew members are in isolation on the ship.”
The Philippines Embassy in Port Moresby has been advised of the matter.
“As we all watch the number of deaths continue to rise in Fiji, India and around the world, we should take this as a wakeup call for us all to vaccinate. The only way for our people to survive Covid-19 is through vaccination,” Dr Esorom said.
Meanwhile, PNG’s neighbour, Fiji, is battling the largest rise in cases since the outbreak began.
Fiji recorded 1220 new cases of Covid-19 between July 14 and 15, which is the largest number of cases in a single day since the latest outbreak began in April.
Health authorities said five deaths were reported in the days leading up to the end of the week.
Chinese vaccine now an alternative in PNG
The PNG National Department of Health has added the Chinese Vaccine Sinopharm into its vaccine distribution system.
The Chinese Vaccine will run parallel to the Australian-provided AstraZeneca Vaccine which has been rolling out in PNG for the last two months.
Chinese medical staff have arrived in PNG with the Sinopharm vaccine and will run this vaccination program.
An Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) has also hit the ground running, working closely with their PNG counterparts to support COVID-19 patients at the Port Moresby General Hospital (POMGEN).
PNG Health Minister Jelta Wong said vaccination remains voluntary.
Forest Minister Walter Schnaulbelt became the first person to be vaccinated to launch the new vaccine, followed by Papua New Guineans including those of Chinese origin.
Mr Schnaulbet said he decided to get vaccinated to show others that there is now an alternative vaccine that people in PNG can choose if they do not want AstraZeneca.
One of those who was vaccinated was Marilyn Dave, who said she was happy to receive the vaccine. “We don’t know what is coming,” the Gulf woman said.
PNG Health Department says “there are predictions that there will be a second wave of COVID-19, and vaccination will help protect one from getting severe forms of the virus. The global trends also show that the new variants, including the Delta Variant are causing havoc in some parts of the world.
Sinopharm is one of two main Chinese coronavirus vaccines that have been sent out to millions of people both in China and other countries, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”
It said “In the Pacific region, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have received Sinopharm vaccine ahead of PNG and are already distributing the vaccine amongst their people.”
It further stated that this vaccine was approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in May this year. This means that it is safe and effective for use.
Other vaccines that have been approved by WHO for emergency use are AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Chief Executive Officer of Port Moresby General Hospital Dr Charles Molumi said following the launch that a team would be based at the front of the hospital’s Department of Accident and Emergency every day to vaccinate anybody that comes for the Sinopharm vaccine.