Papua New Guinea declares state of emergency after first coronavirus case

A foreign mine worker is confirmed as the country’s first case, as Guam records the Pacific region’s first Covid-19 death

Papua New Guinea will enter into a two-week state of emergency on Tuesday after the country confirmed its first case of Covid-19, as the Pacific region recorded its first death from the virus.

The Papua New Guinea government confirmed late on Friday evening that its first case of coronavirus is a foreign mine worker who entered the country on 13 March and travelled to Lae.

Announcing the confirmed case on Friday night, the prime minister, James Marape, said: “Our team were able to trace all his steps and contacts in country and from present indications the 10 or so persons he came in contact with have not shown signs and symptoms but are all under observation for our national safety.”

Marape said that though there was no evidence of community transmission so far, the country would declare a state of emergency for 14 days, beginning on Tuesday 24 March.

The measures to be introduced include stopping all domestic flights, further to a previous ban on incoming international flights; no movement from one province to another for a 14-day period except for approved cargo, medicine and security personnel; the bringing froward of school holidays to start on Monday 23 March; all non-essential workers to stay at home; and for all people who arrived in Papua New Guinea from 7 March to report in to a government hotline.

The state of emergency in Papua New Guinea – the largest Pacific Island nation – comes as cases have spread across some countries in the region over the weekend.

On Sunday, Guam confirmed the first death in the Pacific from Covid-19, of a 68-year-old woman, who was the relative of someone who had recently returned to Guam. The woman had “multiple co-morbidities”, said Dr Mike Cruz, who is leading the coronavirus response in the US Pacific territory. Guam has 15 confirmed cases of the virus, the most of anywhere in the Pacific.

Fiji confirmed its second case of Covid-19, and its first case of human-to-human transmission over the weekend, after the mother of a flight attendant, who was confirmed as being the country’s first case, also tested positive for the virus.

There are huge fears across the Pacific region about countries’ ability to cope with the outbreak of coronavirus. Many Pacific nations face huge public health challenges, including outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. Papua New Guinea is grappling with cases of polio and drug-resistant tuberculosis and a devastating measles outbreak last year led to more than 80 deaths – mostly of infants – in Samoa.

Contributor

Kate Lyons

The GuardianTramp

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