PNG Covid: Australia bans flights from Papua New Guinea over spiralling coronavirus cases

Australia bans flights from Papua New Guinea as spiralling coronavirus crisis threatens to spread Down Under – and Scott Morrison vows to donate 8,000 vaccines

  • Papua New Guinea has suffered  a Covid surge which could infect 3 in 4 people
  • Prime Minster Scott Morrison has banned flights and will send 8,000 vaccines 
  • He is demanding the EU release 1million vaccines he has ordered to help PNG 

All passenger flights from Papua New Guinea to Australia will be suspended for at least two weeks, as the country’s northern neighbour struggles with a mounting coronavirus crisis.

The government will also donate 8,000 vaccines to stem the spread, which could affect Australia due to the large amount of unchecked population movement between PNG and the northern Australian islands.

Scott Morrison also demanded the European Union immediately release one million vaccines that Australia has bought so they can be donated to PNG, which is just 150 kilometres from the tip of northern Queensland.

European Union nations including Italy have recently blocked vaccines from leaving as they struggle to secure enough doses for their own populations. 

Scott Morrison also demanded the European Union release one million vaccines that Australia has bought

A hearse carrying the coffin of Papua New Guines's first prime minister Michael Somare during his funeral ceremony on March 11

A hearse carrying the coffin of Papua New Guines’s first prime minister Michael Somare during his funeral ceremony on March 11

‘With the support of the PNG government we’re making a formal request to AstraZeneca and the European authorities to access one million doses of our contracted supplies of AstraZeneca not for Australia, but for PNG, a developing country in desperate need of these vaccines,’ Mr Morrison said in a press briefing.

‘We’ve contracted them. We’ve paid for them and we want to see those vaccines come here so we can support our nearest neighbour, PNG, to deal with their urgent needs in our region.’

Amid fears three quarters of Papua New Guineans could be infected, Mr Morrison will immediately hand over 8,000 vaccines to jab frontline health workers, as well as one million surgical masks, 100,000 gowns, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves, 100,000 bottles of sanitiser, 20,000 face shields and 200 non-invasive ventilators.

Mr Morrison said giving vaccines to the country was the right thing to do and believed Australians would agree.

‘I think Australians understand that that is one of our responsibilities and as an advanced nation that has had such incredible success in managing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, I think they would be generous in spirit,’ he said.

‘They’re our family. They’re our friends. They’re our neighbours. They’re our partners. They have always stood with us and we will always stand with them.’ 

Mr Morrison demanded co-operation from the EU in sending the vaccines Down Under, adding: ‘I expect and would hope to get the cooperation out of Europe for this. 

‘We’ve all said that we need to get vaccines where they’re needed.

‘This is not Australia seeking to do this for our own direct benefit, although we’ve contracted them and you would expect them to be supplied.’ 

Papua New Guinea is struggling with a Covid-19 outbkreak. Pictured: Port Moresby Harbour

Papua New Guinea is struggling with a Covid-19 outbkreak. Pictured: Port Moresby Harbour

Papua New Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world and has struggled to stand up an effective testing and tracing system.

About half of women going to hospital to give birth are testing positive for the disease. 

‘The capacity to manage Covid-19 in a developing country is starkly different to what it is in an advanced country like Australia,’ Mr Morrison said.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape fears said the country has suffered a huge explosion of cases in recent days.

‘The number is quite staggering,’ Mr Marape told reporters in Port Moresby.

‘If we don’t do a corrective response to this, our health system will be clogged and we won’t be able to sustain it.’  

From Saturday all passenger flights from PNG into Cairns will be suspended for two weeks, with charter flights also halted except for medevac and other critical routes. 

Fly-in-fly-out workers will be banned from the country and exemptions for leaving Australia for PNG will be dramatically reduced.

Australia’s support for Papua New Guinea 

* 8000 doses from Australian vaccine stocks for frontline health workers will be sent to PNG next week.

* The government will make a formal request to AstraZeneca to access one million doses for PNG (paid for by Australia).

* Masks, gowns, goggles, gloves, sanitiser, face shields and ventilators will be sent to PNG.

* An AUSMAT team to travel to PNG next week.

* Australia will seek Quad partners’ (India, Japan and US) assistance for the vaccine rollout.

* Western Province vaccine and medical supplies will be rolled out in treaty villages, where there is movement between Torres Strait islands. Vaccinations will be undertaken by the Queensland government.

* Passenger flights from PNG to Cairns are suspended for two weeks, and passenger caps will be cut for flights into Brisbane.

* Outbound flights from Australia to PNG are suspended, apart from travel for essential and critical workers.

* Air freight services will continue.