Papua New Guinea orders restrictions as COVID-19 numbers climb

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Papua New Guinea officials will tighten internal border controls, restrict personal movement, and enforce mask wearing in public from next week, as the country confronts a steep rise in COVID-19 infections.

Officials in the Pacific island nation of 9 million people also said they will bar mass gatherings, close schools and may order burials in a “designated mass grave” as part of sweeping measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

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PNG has recorded a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with hundreds of new daily cases. Total cases stand at just under 2,500 and deaths at 31, but health officials believe the true numbers are likely much higher.

Neighboring Australia has pledged 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine for PNG health workers, and asked the European Union to release one million doses of its supply, as local media reported patients being turned away from overrun hospitals.

The social distancing measures being imposed from Monday will remain in force until the end of the declaration of the pandemic, unless revoked earlier by officials, PNG pandemic response controller David Manning said in a statement.

“authorized officers” would be tasked with enforcing compliance and anybody found breaching the rules could be penalized, the statement added, without providing further detail.

Though far-reaching, the measures do not go as far as the strict stay-home orders and border closures imposed over the past year in parts of Australia, where local transmission has been all but eliminated.

The PNG ban on public gatherings of more than ten people includes exemptions for religious gatherings of up to 50 if worshippers follow social distancing requirements. Shops can open 13 hours a day and restaurants 15 hours.

Domestic flights are allowed if travelers undertake temperature checks and produce a negative COVID-19 test result. Travel between the country’s 22 provinces can continue for essential purposes like essential business, healthcare and returning home.

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State-owned Ok Tedi Mining Ltd on Friday began a two-week suspension at its copper mine in the Western Province, the area hardest hit outside the capital Port Moresby.

The Australian government earlier this week suspended travel exemptions which had allowed fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) mining and energy workers to travel between the two countries.

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