Papua New Guinea will fit all foreign workers coming into the country with an electronic ankle monitor for the duration of their Covid-19 quarantine, the government’s pandemic controller has said.
PNG has struggled to control outbreaks in the capital, Port Moresby, and western province, and charter flights carrying foreign workers run the risk of spreading the virus across the country.
David Manning, who is also the police commissioner, issued the directive to begin on Tuesday with an Air Nguni flight carrying 152 workers from China.
“As a condition of entry in Papua New Guinea and to effectively monitor designated charter flights that coordinate the arrival of large numbers of foreign workers into PNG at the one time, incoming passengers will be required to be fitted with a GPS tracking ankle bracelet [upon arrival] for the designated quarantine period.
“The cost shall be borne by the relevant passengers/companies for the period of quarantine,” Manning said. All international arrivals must present a negative test and quarantine for between seven and 14 days at government direction.
The move to electronically monitor foreign entrants into PNG comes weeks after PNG prohibited a charter flight of Chinese nationals from entering the country after the Chinese government said its mine workers set to fly in had been “vaccinated” against the virus.
There is no recognised vaccine for coronavirus.
By global standards the number of confirmed Covid-19 infections in PNG remains low at 537 infections and seven deaths. But a spike in cases in Western Province, with 11 new cases in a day, all in people aged under 21 and without symptoms, has prompted fresh warnings from authorities about the risks of an unrestrained outbreak.
And PNG’s actual infection rate is believed to be far higher than the reported figure, because of low testing rates, particularly in remote areas. In all just 26,000 tests have been conducted across the country.
While earlier outbreaks were centred on the crowded capital particularly among healthcare workers there, a rising outbreak in Western Province, which borders Indonesia and Australia, is of acute concern, particularly because of porous borders with neighbouring countries.
Last week four Papua New Guineans landed on Australia’s Saibai Island in the middle of the night, having crossed by boat from New Guinea island – the two islands are just four kilometres apart
Authorities in the Torres Strait said people should be “alert but not alarmed” by the potential coronavirus risk and they were monitoring for signs of an outbreak. The four visitors, from the coastal village of Sigabadaru, visited somebody on the island but then returned to PNG.
The Torres Strait Treaty normally permits cross-border travel for traditional purposes – without border checks – for residents of 14 Torres Strait communities in Australia and 13 coastal villages in Papua New Guinea. But all movement across the international border has been banned since February because of the pandemic.