Coronavirus: PNG health authorities urge public not to panic

10:58 am on 31 January 2020

Health authorities in Papua New Guinea have urged the public to not panic about coronavirus.

Port Moresby in PNG

Port Moresby Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

The deadly flu-like illness, which originated in China, has claimed at least 170 lives in that country.

PNG has introduced restrictions on travellers coming to the country from Asian ports in a bid to prevent coronavirus.

However, public concern about the virus has grown over reports that passengers reached PNG in recent days despite the restrictions.

The health secretary, Paison Dakulala, held a press conference yesterday in Port Moresby where he addressed such concerns.

"Some maybe saying, oh maybe some people have come in, and we don't really know. But technically speaking, there is no coronavirus yet in our country. That's technically, from the point of view of those that we have been able to test. And so that's the bottom line for us."

Paison Dakulala.

Paison Dakulala. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Dakulala said relevant agencies in PNG were taking the coronavirus threat most seriously.

"Ok, it might come, and if it does, God forbid but if it does come we are there to help with the issue.

"In an evolving way, depending on the complexity and what comes in, we will work towards trying to address this issue."

Mr Dakulala said the World Health Organisation was bringing its extensive expertise in outbreaks to enhance PNG's efforts to prepare for coronavirus.

The WHO's representative in PNG, Luo Dapeng, spoke alongside the health secretary at the press conference.

Dr Dapeng admitted that there was a lot of uncertainty about the new virus, but cautioned the public to stay calm and be wary of misinformation.

"It is normal to be worried, but we have a lot of rumours and misinformation. In the context of Papua New Guinea, those rumours can spread quickly and much faster than the virus itself," he said.

The WHO official said the PNG government was doing its best to respond to the virus threat, but admitted it was far from perfect.

He said there were some basic measures that people could take to help protect themselves from this and other viruses.

"We encourage everybody frequently to wash your hands. When you cough and sneeze, cover your mouth with a piece of paper or a towel. If you don't have, please use elbow to cover your [mouth and nose] when you cough [and sneeze]."

Screening and quarantine mechanisms are being activated at those PNG's border points which remain open. Some entry points, such as on the land border between PNG and Indonesia at Wutung have been temporarily closed.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs