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Australia’s vaccine diplomacy is put to the test as COVID lashes out at Papua New Guinea | Instant News


SYDNEY – Papua New Guinea appears to have survived the worst coronavirus crisis for a long time. But a spike in cases since February has brought the remote Pacific island’s largest hospital to the brink of collapse.

For the much larger neighbor, Australia, the outbreak is seen as a serious threat as well as a critical moment in a broader “vaccine diplomacy” campaign.

“If the infection continues at the same rate … it won’t be long before we get down to staffing levels where it is impossible to continue with healthcare,” said Professor Glen Mola, a senior and longtime gynecologist. staff member at Port Moresby General Hospital in the capital. “This is really mind-boggling.”

Papua New Guinea has about 500 doctors for its 9 million population, or one for every 17,000. Coronavirus cases have tripled in a month, bringing the total to 5,349 with 49 deaths, and low testing rates perhaps hiding the true scale of the outbreak. Prime Minister James Marape believes a quarter of the population may be infected.

The virus is now infecting hospital workers. Within one week, 120 staff members at the General Hospital contracted COVID-19 and were forced into isolation.

After a photo of a woman dying in a hospital parking lot circulated on social media, the facility’s CEO warned of such a possible death.

The risks extend beyond the coast of Papua New Guinea: In the south, the Australian state of Queensland has recorded a high number of cases in its hotel quarantine program and has the most active infection anywhere in the country. The majority of positive cases in the hotel quarantine are people returning from Papua New Guinea.

Although Australia has handled the pandemic well, the outbreak in its hotel quarantine system has highlighted the precarious nature of the success. In Victoria state, the failure to quarantine has been blamed for 768 deaths, more than 18,000 infections and months of lockdowns in Melbourne last year. When it comes to Queensland, the country’s cultural, geographic and economic ties to Papua New Guinea mean the island’s struggles pose a real and current danger.

The Australian government has pledged to help Papua New Guinea with the outbreak. The organization has delivered nearly 8,500 doses of vaccine to immunize frontline workers in its former colonies and is considering distributing more once it starts increasing local production of AstraZeneca injections.

These efforts are only a fraction of Australia’s vaccine diplomacy in the Pacific. As a member of the Quad – an informal group but growing in popularity with the US, India and Japan – has committed AU $ 100 million ($ 76 million) to help distribute 1 billion vaccines to Asian and Pacific Island countries by the end of 2022. This is above AU $ 523 million Australian Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative for the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

A woman washing clothes in Hanuabada Village, Port Moresby Port, in this 2018 file photo. Papua New Guinea has about one doctor for every 17,000 people. © Reuters

Even after the crisis at its doorstep is dealt with and the pandemic waning, some analysts expect Australia to play an integral role in helping the Pacific region repair damaged economies and move forward. They are competing for influence with China, which in January declared its willingness to supply vaccines to Pacific countries as well.

The Australian government already has a “Pacific Step” initiative, which former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disclosed in 2016. The policy aims to increase regional engagement in the region and counter Beijing’s growing influence.

At the heart of this “upgrade” is the Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which will finance infrastructure through a combination of a loan of AU $ 1.5 billion and a grant of AU $ 500 million. Operating since 2019, it has supported three major projects: a solar power plant in Papua New Guinea, a hydropower system in the Solomon Islands and a submarine cable in Palau. Canberra will sign AU $ 300 million in funding for other projects in the coming months.

The Asian Development Bank estimates the Pacific will need $ 30 billion in infrastructure investment by 2030. The challenge is identifying commercially viable projects, according to Jonathan Pryke, director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program.

Many investors are wary of bankrolling projects in small and remote economies. China does not appear to share these concerns. “But the reality is these projects [backed by China] it has now been produced and it turns out to be too expensive and the quality varies, “said Pryke.” I think Pacific governments have become much smarter, because they only get so many bites on these projects because of their limited access to debt. “

He said infrastructure had become a “hotly contested space” between China and Australia, and that vaccines were another “geopolitical battleground”. Welcoming the Quad vaccine commitments, he said the reality was that launches across the Pacific were likely to be “messier, more bilateral, and mutually driven.”

A road in Port Moresby built with Chinese government funds: The Asian Development Bank estimates the Pacific will need $ 30 billion worth of infrastructure investment by 2030. © Reuters

After all, the island nation needs a vaccine – and fast.

“The economic damage to the Pacific is severe and Papua New Guinea is a real health crisis,” said Pryke. “These countries can’t wait, their economies will start after the trip, and that won’t happen until there is a significant vaccine rollout.”

But like China, Australia can experience skepticism about its foreign policy ambitions.

In the past, Australia has been criticized for only engaging with the Pacific in times of crisis. Australia’s action on climate change at home, or lack thereof, also looks negative in some of the most vulnerable island nations. Last year, 14 Pacific leaders condemned Australia’s Paris climate targets as “one of the weakest” in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s open-ended leadership.

“There is a fair amount of doubt in the region that the only reason Australia is showing interest now is because China is showing interest, and if China leaves Australia will forget about the region again,” said Tess Cain, project leader. for the Griffith Asia Institute Pacific Hub.

Cain believes there is not only an economic opportunity, but also a moral imperative, to work with China in supporting Pacific development. He said Australia should not allow geopolitical concerns “whether they be pushed from Canberra or Washington, to deter countries facing a humanitarian crisis.”

Cain suggested further easing of labor mobility laws to boost regional economies. This could develop under existing seasonal employment programs that allow people from eight Pacific island nations and East Timor to work in parts of Australia facing personnel shortages.

This is the view shared by one of Australia’s top banks, ANZ, which is also advocating faster vaccine rollouts across the region and infrastructure support to spur a tourism-led job recovery.

But these are things for Australia to ponder next time. Now, time for Papua New Guinea is running out. Mola at Port Moresby General Hospital said the country faced enormous logistical challenges when it came to distributing vaccines and stopping the outbreak. Several reliable roads connect Port Moresby with the remote countryside of the countryside.

With a large proportion of the elderly population living in the latter region, the country will be in serious trouble if an outbreak spreads.

Another complication is the growing skepticism of vaccines – especially after opposition leaders called for a suspension of Australian-donated shots over safety concerns.

Mola believes the situation is so dire that Australian Defense Force personnel may have to deploy to assist Papua New Guinea, as in previous crises. In the end, he saw no easy solution.

“It’s hard to see how this will all work, actually,” he said. “Pray for us.”

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The increase in the Transtasman bubble: A positive move as the number of infected Australian tourists is revealed | Instant News


The new data was greeted by experts as a positive step towards a transtasman bubble. Photo / 123RF

Emerging data shows only three people who traveled directly from Australia to New Zealand tested positive for Covid-19 for eight months.

This has been welcomed by experts as a positive step towards a transtasman bubble – but they say New Zealand needs to up its border game to Australian level to reduce the risk of creating a Covid-19 outbreak.

Data showing the three positive cases came through the Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Health seeking the number of positive cases of Covid-19 since March last year. That shows that there were 39 positive cases in March and April last year – then almost none.

One case was identified in August, one in November and another in January. NZ statistics show that during the same period 23,447 people traveled from Australia to New Zealand.

Otago University epidemiology professors Dr Nick Wilson and Dr Michael Baker support the data which add strength to the argument for the bubble but add a note of caution. Academics last year conducted research on alternative ways to manage incoming travelers.

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Wilson said a “prudent” system was needed for quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand.

It includes a development process so that every incoming Australian traveler is required to download a Ministry of Health app to scan a QR code, activate its bluetooth function and agree to use it at every opportunity during the first few weeks.

He said a saliva test at the airport would also reduce risks, as would a ban on attending large-scale events and conducting spot checks on travelers with fines for those who circumvent the rules.

“I hope they talk about these things now. The economic benefits are huge.

“In general, I would be more concerned with New Zealand border controls than Australia. We just have a loose process.”

He said quarantine rules in Australia offered a higher level of protection from the virus, including rules such as restricted arrivals in their rooms upon arrival. In New Zealand, areas of risk include bus travel for exercise, movement in MIQ facilities, smoking mingling in outdoor areas without masks, and other areas.

He said New Zealand’s approach had been locked in a “pathway dependency”, meaning the government was struggling to deviate from systems developed as the pandemic approached.

Wilson said the vaccination programs in both countries are also encouraging and as the percentage of the population being vaccinated has increased, so has the belief to free travel.

Professor Michael Baker (left) and Professor Nick Wilson.  Photo / Provided
Professor Michael Baker (left) and Professor Nick Wilson. Photo / Provided

Baker said the figures were “very supportive evidence” for the transtasman bubble. That’s not suggesting risk-free travel but a new system – as outlined by Wilson – could reduce risk to a manageable level.

“It’s never ‘without risk.’ There will always be risk. It’s about managing it successfully.”

He said he prefers to use the term “green zone” to identify low-risk countries, whereas those with high risk are in the “red zone”. He said a greater job in “red zone” countries managing those traveling to New Zealand would reduce the likelihood of border breaches.

“This is an opportunity to compare our borders with Australia. The world needs a model of success. This is a great opportunity to show a model that can be rolled out globally.”

Baker said those who travel should accept that outbreaks of the communities they visit can lead to being trapped there.

“That would be a trade-off – all travelers have to do this with their eyes open. Things can change very quickly.”

University of Auckland associate professor of microbiology Dr Siouxsie Wiles said the data showing the three infected travelers from Australia were encouraging.

“There’s always a complication that not everyone infects others – and some become super spreaders.”

Wiles said it was important for those traveling from Australia not to share planes with those transiting from other countries because of the possibility of contracting Covid-19 while flying.

He said one possible risk to manage was the opening up of space in MIQ and an increase in travelers from less safe countries.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins said he was aware of the figure and Australia was seen as a lower risk for origin cases, which is why so much work has led to the transtasman bubble.

“But as we have said before, low risk is not without risk. While we are always clear, we want to open this particular bubble as soon as we can, it will not happen until both countries feel equally comfortable with the risk.”

Hipkins said the time it takes to travel to Australia has reinforced New Zealand’s positioin for a “wider reopening of travel”, including issues such as insurance, a clear message for those who have to seek cover, and the impact on airlines and airports that face numbers. more passengers. arrival in the Covid-19 environment.

“Strengthening our position in terms of travel between here and Australia will help us set a sustainable pattern for the future.”

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said there was a desire to bubble travel with Australia.

“But if those costs raise the alert level in Auckland, it’s a zero-sum game. The economic costs outweigh the benefits.”

Action Party leader David Seymour said questions remained about the quality of New Zealand’s border controls even as Australia had upgraded its system.

Seymour said New Zealand needed to stop seeing the world as having an equal risk around the world and develop a system that is responsive to the “hot spots” of Covid-19.

Until that happened, he said it echoed an Australian question: “New Zealand, where the hell are you bleeding?”

A Health Ministry spokesman said the data – along with other information – was being used to develop New Zealand’s response to Covid-19. “This includes potential travel bubbles and when this could occur.”

Data showing the three positive cases was collected through the ESR database based on people being asked about the last three countries in which they spent time.

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Covid 19 coronavirus: COVID-19 patients died in hospital, two new cases in managed isolation | Instant News


The Health Ministry has revealed that a person who previously tested positive for Covid-19 had died after being hospitalized for treatment for a “serious condition not related to Covid-19”.

There are two new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation and there are no new cases in society at this time.

The ministry said in its daily 1pm update that it was “deeply saddened to confirm” the death of a patient with Covid-19 at North Shore Hospital.

The statement added: “The patient was transferred from a Managed Isolation Facility to hospital-level care for the treatment of serious conditions unrelated to Covid-19 on February 5.

“This person then returned a positive COVID-19 result after entering. This positive result has been reported before.

“Patients talk to families every day, either by zoom or telephone.”

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said: “On behalf of New Zealanders, I want to acknowledge the loss of this family.

“This is a time for all of us to give deep sympathy, while respecting the privacy of our family.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry said the new confirmed cases were linked to a person who traveled from India, via the United Arab Emirates, on February 9.

The number of confirmed cases in the country is 1972. The total number of tests processed by the laboratory to date is 1,583,469.

As of Friday, the lab processed 4,683 tests.

Of Friday’s cases in managed isolation cases, one arrived on January 26 from the UK and traveled via Singapore. They tested positive around day 16.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed that New Zealand’s frontline border workers will start receiving the first Covid-19 vaccinations from next Saturday.

Starting February 20, border workers and MIQ in Auckland will be offered the Pfizer / BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

Speaking to media in Auckland this morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would take about two to three weeks for 12,000 frontline workers to receive the injections.

After the launch is complete, their family members will be offered vaccinations.

“Health and care workers and those most at risk of Covid-19 will follow in the second quarter, before vaccination of the wider population in the second half of this year,” Ardern said.

He added that the full vaccination program would take a whole year to roll out as a whole.

“This will be New Zealand’s largest vaccination campaign.”

Today is the first time the Government has set any timetable for vaccine launches.

The only new Covid case yesterday arrived on February 8 from the US. Infections were retrieved as a result of day 0 testing.

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Covid 19 coronavirus: ‘Low health risk’ from the Hamilton Covid-19 community case | Instant News


Public health director Caroline McElnay has admitted that health officials were “scratching their heads” at the latest Pullman Covid-19 case, after another former MIQ victim tested positive.

The Ministry of Health today confirmed a community Covid-19 case in Hamilton.

The person has been in isolation since January 30 and has returned three negative tests, the most recent of which was February 2.

He said the ministry is not advising people to cancel events. The Hamilton Waitangi Day event was canceled this morning, with the host referring to information obtained from “credible health sources” of new positive cases of Covid-19 in the community.

McElnay said this afternoon that everyone leaving Pullman must self-isolate for five days after they leave.

This case does this.

“We are looking at all options,” he said, when asked if people need to isolate themselves from a longer time.

“It’s something that’s being actively reviewed.”

He said it would be a “very reasonable precautionary measure”.

McElnay said the ministry was considering extending the quarantine period.

The man was at Pullman from January 16-30. The person is on the same floor with several recent positive cases.

When asked if there had been any crossover with another positive case recently from Pullman, he said he needed to check. Northland’s positive case recently left the facility on January 15.

McElnay said the ministry was still investigating how it spread.

“We haven’t ruled out any possibility …

“We are scratching our heads a little,” he said, responding to a question about the latest Pullman outbreak.

He said there was a strong system at the moment but said “I don’t know if it’s luck”.

He spoke about the New Zealand system, saying they were tried and tested.

Hamilton’s last individual test came back positive yesterday afternoon.

They just came back from abroad.

He doesn’t know whether the Covid-19 strain is a South African variant. Further tests are being carried out and the person is now in Jet Park.

The person lives with two other people, who are treated as close contacts. Both gave negative results.

Everyone wears masks in communal places in the house.

McElnay said there were no locations of interest at this stage.

He said the only people who needed to be tested were symptomatic people, as usual.

The Waikato DHB has expanded the number of testing stations.

At Pullman, he said investigations into the facility were continuing. McElnay said the Ministry had looked at the common area.

McElnay said there were 60 people left at Pullman. The guests leaving tomorrow is the last stage to leave.

There is an “in-depth overview” of all MIQ facilities in progress, but he cannot provide a timeline of when the results will be available.

McElnay “firmly believed” that this person did not come out while they were isolated.

“They’ve stayed home, they’ve never been anywhere else,” said McElnay.

He has a “high level of assurance” that this case can be resolved.

McElnay was unsure of the chain of transmission and said this person “could be a historic case” but they are running more tests.

The person is still asymptomatic.
McElnay said it was imperative that swabbing was carried out to the “highest standards”.

He said he had faith in the testing regime.

There are two other Covid-19 cases today – one at the border and one historic.

The Health Ministry this morning played down the seriousness of the situation, saying the risks to public health were low.

“People in and around Hamilton need not worry,” the ministry said in a statement this morning.

The new case is someone who lives at the Pullman Hotel and they have been in self-isolation since returning home on January 30.

Officials said the person returned three negative tests before they tested positive for Covid-19.

“This case reinforces the importance of self-isolation and the repeated testing strategy we have adopted around people leaving managed isolation at Pullman.”

The Health Ministry’s statement came after the Hamilton Waitangi Day event was canceled because, according to the host, “a credible health source” said there were new positive cases of Covid-19 in the community.

Initially, health officials would not confirm the case but Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate told Stuff that the Health Ministry was investigating a “possible low-risk case”.

“It’s understandable that people are worried. Everyone wants to keep this virus away,” he said.

“This is definitely not the time to panic or anything,” he said, adding that he had not been given reason to be worried at this stage.

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Today’s new case is the fifth case of someone who has tested positive for Covid after they left managed isolation at the Pullman Hotel.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins ordered an investigation into the hotel to find out why the virus is spreading.

He has not announced the results of the investigation.

Hipkins also ordered a “deep clean” of the hotel before any new people were allowed to isolate at the facility.

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Covid-19 fear: Hamilton District Court lockdown elevator, isolation worker test negative | Instant News


New Zealand

The Hamilton District Court lockdown was lifted after about 40 to 50 people were trapped inside for more than an hour. Video / Belinda Feek

A worker in a managed isolation facility who triggered the lockdown in Hamilton District Court has tested negative for Covid-19.

The lockdown was triggered just before 10 a.m. and was lifted around 11:20 a.m., when community members were allowed out again. The court was then closed for the remainder of the day.

The people inside were told they were just casual contacts, so there was no need for mandatory home quarantines.

A source told the Herald that the lockdown was triggered because a woman working in a managed isolation facility had appeared in court and informed a staff member that she had a cold and was awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test.

The woman’s employer told the Herald she was tested as part of a routine Covid-19 check for isolation and border workers.

“This person has no symptoms of Covid, he underwent routine tests that all MIF workers have to do every 14 days. There is no requirement for them to self-isolate at all after the test. He never stated that at any time. she has Covid symptoms, “said the female boss, whom the Herald agreed not to mention.

The woman has since returned her test negative, the employer said.

The Ministry of Health confirmed the negative results this afternoon.

The ministry also said in a statement: “Precautions to lock down the court have been taken by local agencies after several initial reports that the person has symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

“The Ministry of Health recognizes the willingness of our border workers to have regular Covid-19 tests which helps keep all New Zealanders safe from Covid-19. These people don’t need to stay at home – unless they show symptoms.”

During the lockdown, about 40 to 50 people were trapped in court.

Maeve Neilson, acting Deputy Secretary for Corporate & Digital Services at the Ministry of Justice, said it was following Ministry of Health guidelines to protect the health and safety of “all court attendees and staff. We have also developed protocols to deal with anyone showing symptoms or cases of COVID-19 that have had COVID-19. confirmed in one of our buildings.

“As a precautionary measure, the Hamilton District Court is closed to the public as members of the public enter the courthouse who have been tested for COVID-19.

“Court participants have now left the court after providing contact tracing information. The courthouse will remain closed for the remainder of the day while areas are duly cleared according to Ministry of Health guidelines.”

Neilson urged anyone feeling unwell not to come to the courthouse. Those who feel unwell have been told to call their doctor or Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice on having the test. Call 0800 COURTS (0800 268 787) if you are unable to enter the courthouse or are unsure whether to attend.

A Health Ministry spokesman said the ministry had been informed that Hamilton District Court was temporarily locked.

“This is a precaution after someone who was tested for Covid-19 yesterday as part of our routine testing for border workers visited the court this morning, a spokesman said,” he said in a statement.

“The risk to the public is considered low. An update will be provided today.”

Herald sources believe the woman appeared at the registrar’s court this morning.

A dozen people waited outside the court - with up to 50 people inside.  Photo / Belinda Feek
A dozen people waited outside the court – with up to 50 people inside. Photo / Belinda Feek

A Hamilton woman, who was trapped outside during the lockdown, said she was puzzled to see the courthouse’s front door closed in front of her.

She went to court with her son who was about 10 meters in front of her. She had walked in and through security when she heard him say “Mom, you can’t come in”.

“I looked at him and said ‘why?’ And then two security staff said the building was locked. “

Six cases were in managed isolation

Six new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation were announced yesterday – including two from the UK where a new strain of the virus is spreading rapidly.

There are no new cases in the community.

From a new frontier case: |

• One arrived on 2 January from the United Kingdom via Qatar and Australia. This person tested positive on the first day of routine testing and is at the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on December 31 from the United States. This person tested positive during routine testing around day 3 and was at the Christchurch quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on 29 December from Great Britain via the United Arab Emirates and tested positive on the 6th day. This person is at the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on December 27 from Switzerland via the United Arab Emirates and tested positive on the sixth day. This person is at the Auckland quarantine facility.
• One case arrived on 22 December from South Africa via Qatar.
• One case arrived on 19 December from India via the United Arab Emirates. This person is a close contact of a confirmed case and tested positive on day 15. They are in an Auckland quarantine facility.

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