The government of Papua New Guinea announced that domestic flights between provinces have been suspended as of Friday, August 7, due to concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). As of Friday, only cargo and medical flights will be permitted to travel across provinces. Roadblocks are also being set up in selected areas to enforce any restrictions on ground movements. The decision comes following an increase in cases detected outside of Port Moresby, including Bougainville, where a case of the disease was detected for the first time on Friday.
Authorities placed Port Moresby under lockdown from Tuesday, July 28, amid a surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases. The new restrictions, in place for an initial period of 14 days, include the closure of schools and all non-essential businesses, the suspension of some public transport, and a 22:00 to 05:00 (local time) curfew across the National Capital District. Domestic flights to and from Port Moresby were suspended until at least August 12, while additional restrictions have been placed on international air travel. The country's maritime and land borders have been closed as of Monday, July 27, and international flights have been further restricted, although exemptions remain in place for some travelers. Those arriving in the country are required to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test from within seven days prior to their flight.
The new measures come a week after the wearing of face masks was made compulsory in Port Moresby. Face masks, which are due to be issued to all the city's residents, must be worn in all public places and on public transport. A ban on gatherings of more than 15 people also remains in force.
Port Moresby is experiencing a significant surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases, which has seen the number of coronavirus patients in the country more than tripled since July 17. The outbreak cluster is believed to be focused around a laboratory at the city's main medical facility, Port Moresby General Hospital, which was being used to process COVID-19 tests. Most of the new cases have been confirmed among hospital staff, but patients and others within the community have also tested positive in recent days. On Monday, July 20, the country's first COVID-19-related fatality was confirmed at the hospital after a patient with terminal underlying health conditions died with the disease. The hospital has since reduced its operations due to the risk of further COVID-19 infections.
As of Saturday, August 8, health authorities have confirmed 188 COVID-19 cases and three associated deaths in Papua New Guinea. However, testing capabilities within the country remain severely limited and the actual number of infections is likely to be significantly higher. Further spread of the virus is expected in the near term.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Since then, human-to-human transmission of the virus has been confirmed. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Some patients may experience other symptoms such as body pains, nasal congestion, headache, conjunctivitis, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell or a rash on skin or discoloration of fingers or toes. These symptoms (in most cases mild) appear gradually. Generally, most patients (around 80 percent) recover from the disease without being hospitalized.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the disease.
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