Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape announced on Tuesday, July 21, that the wearing of face masks has been made compulsory in Port Moresby following the confirmation of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cluster in the capital. Face masks, which are due to be issued to all the city's residents, must be worn in all public places from Tuesday. The president also urged those in the capital to follow enhanced hygiene and social distancing standards to prevent the further spread of the disease. There is a realistic possibility that further measures, including a possible return to the full lockdown which was lifted in June, will be introduced in the capital on Wednesday, July 22.
The move follows a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Port Moresby, with the total number of confirmed cases in the country more than doubling to 27 in the last week due to a new cluster in the capital. The 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.
International flights to and from the country are currently severely restricted, with only limited services operating from Port Moresby to Brisbane and Cairns.
As of July 22, health authorities have confirmed 27 COVID-19 cases and one associated death in Papua New Guinea. 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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