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Papua New Guinea has surged past 30,000 Covid-19 cases and has nearly counted 400 deaths after the virus failed to take a life for most of the recorded pandemic.

Australian Defence Force soldiers and Australian Medical Assistance Team arrive in Port Moresby on Wednesday filling in their arrival forms. Picture: Supplied.

The first interaction with coronavirus was back in March 2020, but it took 16 months before the nation’s health authorities were confronted with their first death.

While a state of emergency was called after Covid-19 landed on its shores, the government has accepted the alarming spike of deaths, in just the past three months it has turned into a national crisis.

Prime minister James Marape abruptly cancelled his trip to Glasgow for the Climate Change Conference to deal with the large number of positive cases.

Minister for Climate Change and Conservation Wera Mori is representing the government on behalf of Mr Marape.

The prime minister said ongoing surges in Covid-19 cases “requires my leadership”.

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Latest figures available indicated PNG is averaging more than 260 cases every day over the past week.

The number of new cases peaked at 896 on October 24, but the country did not record a death on October 30 before rising back up to 222 cases three days later.

It required a second Australian medical assistance team to land in Port Moresby last week to help local authorities in containing the cases.

PNG deputy National Pandemic Response controller, Dr Daoni Esorom, announced that six medical personnel and 14 soldiers would be based in the nation’s capital, Port Moresby, for the moment.

The team arrived with emergency supplies, including pre-packaged personal protective equipment, medicine and oxygen consumables, which will be distributed to high-risk provinces.

This is the sixth Australian group to arrive in PNG.

Australia Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Marise Payne, said Australia was “standing with our friend and neighbour, as it faces significant pressure on its health system”.

Ms Payne said Australia and PNG know the importance of partnerships and responding to this current Covid-19 outbreak together was no exception.

“The team will support the PNG-led response through the allocation of extra health specialists and medical supplies across the health system in response to the current surge in cases,” she said.

This help comes against a background that only about two per cent of PNG citizens are fully vaccinated.

More than 100 hospital staff are reported to have tested positive in recent weeks.

Ambulance drivers are also said to be struggling to respond after most callouts relate to the virus appear to have increased since the breakout of the Delta variant.

Port Moresby’s governor Powes Parkop has been resisting calls for a lockdown after he was reported to have said that it was near impossible to enforce people off the streets.

After meeting key stakeholders of the city and discussions with the PNG government, Parkop decided that a lockdown would only happen should the situation become drastic.

November 3, 2021

PNG health crisis – ransomware attack setback

Fiscal resources on mass burial plans of Covid-19 victims are further stretched in Papua New Guinea after a cyberattack on the government’s financial system.

The hacking of national security came in the form of a ransomware infiltering the core server on Friday.

Finance minister and acting treasurer, Sir John Pundari confirmed that the finance department was attacked.

But the government says it refused to pay a ransom.

Mr Pundari said the system was restored up to a functional level so departments and agencies could access to commit and process cheques safely.

“All provinces and districts will also have access to commit funds through a controlled temporary arrangement,” he said in a statement.

“The department has now managed to fully restore the system, however, because of the risk, we are playing it safe by not allowing full usage of the affected network.”

Mr Pundari said restoration of services to all agencies, including the sub-national, will be done gradually, bearing in mind security of individual networks so as “not to compromise or allow any further spread of this malware or other virus”.

PNG finance minister Sir John Pundari
PNG finance minister Sir John Pundari. Picture: Supplied

PNG finance secretary Dr Ngangan said the department had been hit with what he described as a “ransomware attack”.

He said the department’s IT experts worked around the clock and managed to arrest the threat to restore the system.

“We are now working around the clock to establish the point of entry of such threat,” Dr Ngangan said.

“Because of the threat, temporary arrangements are in place, which includes a set-up of 25 computers in the department fitted with necessary cyber securities to ensure the government financial service continues.”

The pandemic is already putting a strain on a struggling national economy that has impacted on its health system.

The mortuary is filled beyond capacity.

More than 300 bodies are stacked on top of one another amid forced mass burials, as more Covid-19 victims are brought in from hospital wards and homes.

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The national pandemic response said the country needed help after some hospitals were scaling down on other operations to deal with the Covid-19.

Australia was forced to send a medical assistance team to help PNG contain a surge in cases.

A team arrived with emergency supplies including pre-packaged personal protective equipment, medicine and oxygen consumables, which will be distributed to high-risk provinces.

This is the sixth Australian group to arrive in the country since the pandemic.

Australia Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Marise Payne, said Australia was “standing with our friend and neighbour as it faces significant pressure on its health system”.

Payne said Australia and PNG recognise the importance of partnership and responding to this current Covid-19 outbreak together was no exception.

“The team will support the PNG-led response through the allocation of extra health specialists and medical supplies across the health system in response to the current surge in cases,” she said.

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