PNG needs a comprehensive strategy to beat COVID-19 | Allan Bird

It is critical that any government be given all the information it needs to combat any issue. COVID19 is no exception. We all know that our response to many issues has been generally poor in the past. My fear is that we are taking this same approach to COVID19. And I fear that Government is not getting the benefit of good data and by inference good analysis.

COVID19 is no longer a health pandemic. It is an economic and social tsunami that is already causing great devastation across the world. So we need a strategic approach to it. One which sadly our team of experts have failed to provide.

What is our country strategy? What are our strategic strengths as a country? How can we employ these strengths in a national strategy to combat COVID19 and it’s devastating effects?

Should we simply employ what rich western countries are doing? Is that a smart strategy? For the first time in history we have a situation where our traditional friends are under siege. Worried about how COVID19 is affecting their countries. So PNG needs to figure out a way to combat this situation and come out on top.

This is a fight for survival. If we spend all our bullets (resources) and deploy our troops in the wrong corridor, we will lose the war.

So let’s break it down, who is this enemy called COVID19? What do we know about him? What are the strengths of the enemy? What are his weaknesses? First of all, he travels in an infected human host. He can’t survive too long outside a human host. Also a strong healthy human, can withstand COVID19. Mostly old, sick people are high risk. We have no medicine to kill him. This is what we know.

What are our strategic strengths? We are fairly isolated from each other. Most places are difficult for people to get to and hence the virus to get to. We have a young population which is generally healthy and have access to healthy organic food.

What is our weakness? An infected person can bring the virus in from another country through an open border. We also don’t have much money and we have a weak economy and a weak health system.

So what’s the strategy? Where should we deploy our assets to fight the virus? Where are we most vulnerable? And where can we mount our best defense? To me it’s at the entry point. Our borders. This is what I have been saying since COVID19 became an issue several months ago. That’s the front line. Who do we need on the Frontline? Soldiers and police men. Well resourced. That should be 60% of our effort.

Our fall back strategy should be to fight it if it gets past the border into the population. What does that entail? We should be prepared to use our natural topography to cordon off parts of the country that might be infected. Save the other parts from infection. If we contain the virus in certain areas and don’t let it out, then we can survive as a nation.

Thirdly we should protect the golden goose that produces the golden eggs. Our fragile economy. If we expend all our resources on fighting the virus and the economy dies, we die too.

So I want to see a comprehensive strategy. Burning roadside markets and beating up our women who sell food is not a smart strategy. Why is this our focus? Those strong young men we are sending to burn markets should be on the border. Deploy them where they can be most useful.

All of the above strategies we have deployed in East Sepik. I don’t know everything, I have some really smart people in my province who are doing these things. So I am offering our strategy.

And to my usual critics, Government strategy is determined by ministers, not by Governors. Governors have zero input on government strategy formulation. Hence this post. Thank you lo yupla harim.

What are the lessons? Seeing the COVID-19 crisis through a PNG lens

village

So it’s a global pandemic with 15,000+ dead already, 350,000 infected and nearly 105,000 recovered.

It was a national health worry. But within days, it became a national emergency. The Prime Minister taking advice from the National Security Council, a state of emergency declared and Police Commissioner, David Manning appointed SOE controller.

For the first time in Papua New Guinea’s history, all the politicians and all the top bureaucrats are in the country. None of them want to be overseas. Even the crooks who stole from Papua New Guinea’s health system and made millions from the bribes want to be here in a country which is largely COVID-19 free (at least for now).

The irony of it all just gives you warm fuzzy feelings. What a beautiful example of poetic justice?

Australia, Singapore, China and the rest of the world are the least attractive places for anyone right now.

Every public official who thumbed their noses at PNG’s health system and went overseas for medical treatment, now expects our underpaid doctors and nurses to build facilities that will be COVID-19 ready in weeks.

Big ask.

Oops! Why didn’t we invest in the health system and build it up for our people? Maybe, just maybe, one day we might need to use it. That day has come. A bit early, I must say.

Here is another piece of irony for you. The safest places in PNG right now are the villages where up to 70 percent of health facilities are closed because of lack of funding and lack of medicines.

Hundreds of villagers have been in ‘self-isolation’ for decades. They don’t have to maintain ‘social distancing.’

A lead team member in Morobe’s COVID-19 response team, said on Saturday, “the safest place right now is in the villages. They can easily self-isolate.” I didn’t say that, he did.

While there are reports of urban dwellers, panic buying food items. Food security in the villages remains constant. The Western Highlanders will be complaining about having too much kaukau, potato, broccoli and cabbages because interprovincial travel has been drastically reduced and the Lae Market is closed.

I’d rather complain about having too much healthy food than about too many deaths from COVID-19.

The Papua New Guinea Defence force has been called on to provide security with the police. They have a funding shortage, planes that are grounded, facilities that have been screaming for government attention for decades.

They’ve been put on alert to be battle ready against COVID-19. Big ask. But I don’t doubt their abilities.

But let’s buy them the equipment, uniforms, vehicles and training. With our money. Let’s make them a force to be reckoned with. Give them the planes and the choppers so they can support us with pride.

Let’s not wait for a global crisis to do that.

We face an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. If there was any time in history to invest in agriculture (and I don’t mean Oil Palm), this is the time. This is the time to plant for the next 6-12 months to increase food security.

But at the same time, we should be building systems for the future when the rest of the world collapses around us.

#PNG #COVID-19 UPDATE, Tuesday 17: Military put on alert as PNG announces further restrictions

#EMTVonline: The Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) has been put on alert as the the health Minister formally declared the COVID-19 as a “quarantinable disease” under the country’s health laws.

Yesterday, the the National Security Council met to discuss additional control measures in light of the worsening crisis in Australia and surrounding countries.

Today, Prime Minister, James Marape announced that overseas flights from Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan, Sydney and Nadi will cease as of Sunday next week and there will be controlled entry from Brisbane, Cairns and Singapore.

“We are now scaling down flights next week…We have now put the military on standby to assist if a first case is established. Their medical facilities and officers (doctors and engineers) will be engaged for now and future pandemics.

“They have given us the Taurama Medical center and 10 medical personnel for use,” Prime Minister, James Marape said.

Through a Government Gazettal notice, the Health Minister, Jelta Wong, listed a series of actions supported by existing quarantine legislations stating he was satisfied that the magnitude of the pandemic warranted the measures.

The list of countries that fall under the 14 day pre-entry quarantine include 27 European member states. Australia, where the majority of expatriate mine workers come from, has been excluded.

“The following countries are proclaimed places under section 12(a) of the Quarantine Act 1953 and are infected with quaratinable disease being COVID-19: People’s Republic of China (ony including mainland China), South Korea, Iran, The European Union, United Kingdom and the US.”

#PNG #COVID-19 UPDATE, Sunday 15: Travel ban for traditional border crossers, cruise ships

#EMTVonline: Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, has announced a 60 day ban on cruise ships as well as prior 14 day quarantine and medical clearances for all travelers coming from Hong Hong, Singapore, China and other Asian ports including other high risk countries.

Overseas travel bans have also been placed on government workers while a separate ban has been imposed on traditional border crossers between Papua New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

“We have now banned traditional border crossers until further notice. Anyone found to be crossing those borders will be heavily penalized. The traditional border crossers are to refrain from travelling until further notice.”

James Marape, outlined the measures at midday, following a meeting with key ministers and agency heads.

“Port Moresby International airport is the only airport for international entry. It will remain this way for commercial flights and charter flights. Any Passengers coming from China, South Korea, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran must present to Air Niugini, medical evidence of a 14 day quarantine.”

The PM said Papua New Guinea has benefited greatly from rigid control measures in surrounding countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. But the government is tightening its efforts to prepare as part of preventative measures.

Four regional Sea ports, will remain open and there are no internal travel restrictions at this stage.

Meanwhile, a 32 bed facility at 6 mile in Port Moresby has been allocated to deal with the potential Coronavirus threat and additional support is being drawn from the World Bank and the WHO.

Treasurer Ling-Stuckey: Budget adjustments can be expected after meeting on Tuesday 17th #coronavirus

MINISTER FOR TREASURY

P O Parliament House
Waigani.NCD

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update – Treasurer continues preparing the budget and the economy

“The Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rapidly evolve. The World Health Organisation (WHO) now estimate over 110,000 cases across 109 countries with over 4,000 deaths. Most of the cases remain in China but there’s growing numbers outside of China with nearly 33,000 cases and 872 deaths. Even though PNG still hasn’t reported any cases, nearby countries of Australia, Singapore and Malaysia and now Brunei have cases.

“These latest developments highlight the importance of the Government’s efforts in prevention and preparedness. I have already hosted on last Thursday a roundtable with economic and health experts to discuss the actions required to best prepare for the impacts of the coronavirus. This was followed this Monday by a targeted meeting with economists from my Department with the National Department of Health, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Institute of National Affairs to step through in more detail the budgetary and economic impacts and how best to model these for the PNG economy. We will continue these discussions over coming days and weeks to ensure the Marape-Steven government has the most up to date assessment.

“Already the global crisis has led to a collapse in the oil and LNG prices down to $US30 per barrel. If this price shock was to continue then we are likely to lose K500 million resource tax revenues and likely a further K500 million from KPH and K300m from Ok Tedi in lost dividends paid to the government.

“These are just what are known as first round impacts. There will be broader impacts across other sectors essential to PNG’s budget and economy. For example, coffee prices have fallen reflecting the lower demand by cafes around the world having to close in response to coronavirus.

“The economic modelling will use two different scenarios. This is sensible planning to consider the different impacts.

“The “contained” scenario assumes the coronavirus doesn’t is not spread within PNG and all the impacts on PNG are from the world economy. We lose massive tax revenues and key parts of our economy closely linked to the world economy like our resource sector and exported crops like coffee could be badly affected. This would still be a negative hit on growth potentially putting PNG into a mild recession and would require major financial assistance and a supplementary budget.

“The “uncontained” scenario is where coronavirus spreads throughout the country The economic and health implications will be much more serious. Modelling is still occurring on the possible extent of the crisis.

“These estimates of the impacts will continue to vary. This highlights the rapidly evolving nature of the coronavirus overseas and understanding the extent of the economic impacts across the global economy and on our close economic and trading partners.

“We are actively exploring options to fill some of these gaps from international assistance. The new IMF facility could provide up to 100 per cent of our annual IMF quota to total over K1.1 billion ($US364m) and the option of additional World Bank funding for the budget and heath activities.

“However, given the likely revenue implications in even the “contained” scenario, then there will be a need for a Supplementary Budget. Economic Ministers will begin examining options for cutting the budget.

“I will update the next Ministerial Economic Committee meeting on next Tuesday 17 March 2020 on these discussions and results to date in addition to keeping our National Executive Council informed. I will also keep the people of PNG informed as we get more details on the potential budgetary and economic impacts.

“We want to assure you the Marape-Steven Government will continually demonstrate its leadership through actions and using facts to inform our advice instead of preaching doom and stirring up panic that is counterproductive and misleading for the people of PNG.

Hon. Ian Ling-Stuckey, CMG. MP
Minister for Treasury
11 March 2020

#Coronavirus: Pasifika Festival in Auckland cancelled

Hall-Taylor Group. 3 March 2017.  Photo:Gareth Cooke/Subzero ImagesAUCKLAND, 13 MARCH 2020 (VOXY)—Pasifika Festival has been cancelled as a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

The decision was made after discussions between Mayor Phil Goff and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Thursday and again this morning.

Overnight, the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee met and considered the issue, and its advice, based on concerns from MFAT and MBIE, was to cancel.

“While the latest Ministry of Health advice is that New Zealand does not have a community outbreak of COVID-19 and the risk of a community outbreak remains low, Auckland Council and the Cabinet Committee’s specific concerns are about the risk of the virus being transmitted to the Pacific Islands by attendees of the Festival,” Mayor Goff said.

“The history of the spread of contagious infections from New Zealand to Samoa, with last year’s measles epidemic which took 82 lives, weighed heavily on our decision.

“It is disappointing for all of us as Aucklanders, and particularly for our Pacific communities, that the festival will not be going ahead this weekend,” said Phil Goff.

“It’s unfortunate to have to cancel an event enjoyed by tens of thousands which celebrates our vibrant Pacific community in Auckland and our multiculturalism.

“However, Aucklanders will understand the council taking commonsense steps to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

“It’s particularly disappointing to have to cancel the event for the second year in a row, but in both instances, it is for reasons beyond our control.

“Council is continuing to monitor the response to coronavirus and is ready to respond to any advice from health authorities to help them share their information and manage any health needs in the Auckland region.

“The future of other public events will be determined on a case-by-case basis, following advice from health authorities and the situation with COVID-19 at the time.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “We’re disappointed, but at the end of the day the health of New Zealanders and the Pacific community is our number one priority.

“We still have no community transmission, but because of new specific advice about the number of people coming into New Zealand for Pacifika who will then return to the Pacific after the event we have decided we need to be extra precautious.

“We have a duty to protect the Pacific from COVID-19, and this decision is all about that.

“We are constantly evaluating the risk situation with COVID-19. In the last 48 hours we have had the first identified case in the Pacific and the global outlook is constantly evolving, so we need to make these decisions based on the most up to date information.

“This is a case of better safe than sorry. I know many in the Pacific community will be disappointed, and I am too. I always look forward to this event. But we have to make sure our communities health and the health of the Pacific is at the forefront of our minds and decisions,” Jacinda Ardern said……PACNEWS

Vanuatu: ‘It’s not business as usual, we are reorganizing’ |Vanuatu Daily Post

vanuPORT VILA,13 MARCH 2020 (VANUATU DAILY POST)—-Vanuatu President Obed Moses Tallis Thursday shared his concerns and advices with the National Coronavirus Task Force, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Acting Director of the Department of Planning, Policy and Corporate Services of the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Media Focal Person of the National Coronavirus Task Force, Russel Tamata,told the Daily Post.

“We have met with the Head of State and the chairman of the Public Service Commission today (Thursday),” he confirmed, after elaborating on the implications of an epidemic and a pandemic.

“The President summoned us today to give instructions which we will sit to consider on Monday next week.

“We briefed the President on the Response Plan and have taken his advices on board, his concerns are about the health and welfare of the people which we appreciate.

“The Public Service Commission will be issuing a directive shortly for relevant Directors General and Directors to convene and discuss the president’s instructions and the best way it can be addressed to benefit everyone.”

The WHO defines pandemic as a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time. As the government is in caretaker mode and the former ministers are out on the campaign trail, the dialogue with the Head of State is much appreciated.

Tamata revealed President Tallis will address the people of Vanuatu after the meeting with other relevant Directors next week.

“Health has its own cluster and we must understand when there is a crisis and situations like this it involves the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) as it has the mandate to call each cluster and activate each sector so it doesn’t backfire on us economically and to ensure there is a better understanding and balance of the decisions we make.

“It is not easy to make the decisions we make. This is one of the first of its kind. We have natural disasters such as cyclones and volcanoes but this is the first of its kind.

“We are refocusing our resources on tackling this and hope other ministries will fall in line. It’s not business as usual, we are re-organising ourselves.

“It will hit us big time. The decisions we make on behalf of the people and its implications will be tough ones. The slightest mistake we make can backfire on us, especially with border control.

“But we are putting measures in place to contain it and try as much as possible to prepare and tighten up controls at the borders.”

The challenge that Vanuatu faces with limited resources is real.

“Resource wise at the Isolation Ward at the Vila Central Hospital (VCH) we can only take up to 20 patients and for critical cases around two or three,”Tamata said.

“The Task Force is working to fast-track work on this. The health cluster must ensure the availability of resources we need on the ground, we are happy after the training last week and this week we are mobilising resources and meeting with our partners and setting up the isolation ward.

He said when it comes to border control there is a need for wider consultations.

“We need to talk, especially with our business partners.”

Tamata also acknowledged the criticisms levelled at the work the Task Force is doing.

“There is a lot of talk, there is panic but I encourage the people to listen and get the right information on our response.

“We feel the same, we are ni-Vanuatu and we are weighing the decisions and implications we make on behalf of the people of Vanuatu.”

The government had approved a budget of Vt32 million (US$266,000) for the National Coronavirus Task Force to work with earlier this year……PACNEWS