27 Mar 2020

PNG faced with limited number of covid testing kits

10:07 am on 27 March 2020

Papua New Guinea's government says the biggest issue it's facing now in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic is a lack of testing.

Just one case of covid-19 has been confirmed in PNG to date, a man who has since been sent home to Australia.

The Police Minister Bryan Kramer, a key official involved in the national covid task force, said health officials had checked most of the people the case came in contact with.

Bryan Kramer.

Bryan Kramer. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

He said most were not displaying symptoms, but that test sample results are still pending (as of Thursday AM PNG time).

PNG's rapid response team has been running contact tracing with everyone who the case came into contact with, from his flight into PNG to the domestic flight, and through his travel up to the mine where he worked in Morobe province.

"So yesterday a team went up and they ran some sampling, of all the people he had direct contact with," the minister explained.

"All those samples have been sent to the lab, and hopefully by lunchtime today we'll confirm whether any of the come back positive or they're all negative."

But according to Mr Kramer, PNG's ablity to test people for covid-19 is limited, because in the rapidly evolving pandemic, the number of available kits keeps changing.

He said PNG was relying on a New Zealand company to send test kits, but the initial expected supply of 10,000 was halved.

"They've indicated they can supply five thousand kits a week, but again, that could change," the minister said.

"So we're waiting for those kits to be flown out of New Zealand, to Brisbane and Air Niugini.

"We're basically on stand-by to pick them up. At this stage because of the global shortage, I can't see any country putting other citizens before its own."

New system for monitoring possible cases is in operation

The head of Papua New Guinea's Covid-19 taskforce said the rapid response team was set up to work with communities with suspected cases.

Police Commissioner David Manning said the Covid-19 National Operation Centre is closely monitoring the situation around the country.

Its call centre has so far received over 700 calls on its toll free number, 1800200, from around the country regarding concerns about the coronavirus or suspected cases.

Because the call centre had become swamped by calls, Mr Kramer explained that it had reverted to fielding the public's queries and reports through text messaging, for which telecommunications companies were providing support.

Mr Manning said the Rapid Response Unit was now attending to the public's various calls and messages.

He also said every person that had returned into the country since 6th of March is being kept under surveillance.