29 Mar 2021

Fijians urged to leave PNG amid rise in Covid-19 cases

3:13 pm on 29 March 2021

Fiji's government is urging its citizens in Papua New Guinea to leave amid an 'alarming' increase of Covid-19 cases there.

The government said it was arranging flights for as early as next week to get the Fijians out of the capital Port Moresby.

Foot traffic in inner Port Moresby.

Foot traffic in inner Port Moresby. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

PNG's total number of confirmed cases had more than tripled over the past fortnight to almost 5,000 while the death toll had climbed to 45 amid signs a new strain of the coronavirus had developed in the country's outbreak.

Health experts believed this was likely to be far worse than what the official figures stated, with testing rates still quite low.

There were about 500 Fijians in Port Moresby.

Fiji's Health Minister, Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete, said he was concerned and urged Fijians wanting to get out of PNG to contact the embassy in Port Moresby.

Waqainabete said the situation was quite dire in PNG as authorities there grappled with the rise in infections in the community.

He said the rate of Covid-19 cases in PNG was "alarming".

"Papua New Guinea recorded a 20 percent increase from our last update.

"I make a call for all Fijians who are in PNG if they are able to, please come back home to Fiji."

New Covid protocols for flights from PNG: Fiji govt

The ministry said it would announce new Covid protocols specifically for those Fijians returning from PNG on a repatriation flight next month.

Health Secretary, Dr James Fong, said some of these included pre-departure, in-flight, off-loading and quarantine protocols.

Fong said so far Fiji had stopped all travel from PNG until the new measures were put in place.

"We have to make adjustments because we know there's a huge amount of outbreak and we, unfortunately, do not have a complete picture because the number of testing is not really enough to tell us exactly what's happening. So we have to take some mitigating measures."

Fong said there had been discussions that they would need to clear three consecutive tests over day 10, five and three.

"On in-flight we will have to separate the travellers from PNG from the rest of the travellers and there's other things like you can't serve food, the cabin crew minimal interaction, when they get off, the low-risk group will come off first before the PNG travellers will come out."

Fong said some of the new measures included pre-departure, in-flight, off-loading and quarantine protocols.

Covid-19 health screening at the Jackson International Airport in Port Moresby.

Covid-19 health screening at the Jackson International Airport in Port Moresby. Photo: PNG Department of Health

Meanwhile, the PNG High Commission in Fiji said it was verifying claims of six Fijians living in PNG who may have contracted Covid-19.

Fiji's Foreign Ministry said it had received brief information that six Fijians in PNG had tested positive for the coronavirus.

However, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Yogesh Karan said the ministry was waiting for confirmation from the PNG officials.

Earlier, PNG's First Secretary and Head of Chancery at the High Commission, Jacinta Tony Barrion, said they were in no position to provide direct information on the matter.

Barrion said they were closely liaising with Fiji's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the details.

Once feedback is received from Port Moresby authorities, Barrion assured it would be communicated to the Fijian authorities.

Meanwhile, PNG's Defence Force has been called out to help enforce the use of face masks by the public in the capital Port Moresby.

Last Friday, the National Capital District Commission requested the army's help, along with support from the police and other agencies, as Covid-19 transmission soared in Moresby.

A nation-wide isolation strategy began last week, with restrictions on public movement, and mandatory use of face masks.

PNG's National Pandemic Response Controller, David Manning, warned people they must follow the masking, sanitising and social distancing protocols.

Fiji has had 67 cases of Covid-19 with one active case and 64 recovered. There were two deaths reported.