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Red Cross calls for urgent help for PNG after record COVID surge

The Pacific nation is reporting more cases amid one of the world’s slowest vaccine rollouts.

Concerted international action is necessary to help Papua New Guinea (PNG) deal with a record surge in COVID-19 cases that is overwhelming the country’s health system, the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has said.

The latest wave of COVID-19 has seen PNG report the highest number of daily cases since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The country reported 376 new cases on Saturday and is dealing with nearly 3,000 active cases of the disease, according to the latest government data.

PNG Red Cross Secretary General Uvenama Rova said hospitals were full and patients were being turned away in provincial areas as well as the capital, Port Moresby.

“Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks,” Rova said in a statement on Monday.

“In all areas of PNG, we are deeply concerned that the risks of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 are skyrocketing due to limited health infrastructure, high rates of illness, all compounded by poor access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.”

PNG’s vaccine rollout has been far slower than in many other parts of the region, with only about 2 percent of the country’s population having received a vaccine, according to official data.

The government data does not elaborate on the number of doses received, but Oxford University’s Our World in Data says only 0.67 percent of people are fully vaccinated. Experts say the rollout is being hampered by misinformation, vaccine hesitancy and the logistics of delivering the vaccines around the country’s mountainous terrain and remote coastal villages,

“If this COVID surge continues at such an alarming speed, PNG’s fragile health system is at risk of collapse,” said John Fleming, IFRC’s Asia Pacific Head of Health. “It is vital that emergency healthcare services are increased to prevent greater suffering and loss of life.”

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