As Premiers and Chief Ministers impose lockdowns and other restrictions on citizens after a handful of Covid-19 cases it is timely to look at the current position in our closest neighbours – Papua New Guinea, Solomons, Timor Leste, Vanuatu and Fiji.
And in doing so I will offer some thoughts on the consequences for Australia not only of the current position, but also what is likely to impact Australia in the medium term.
There seems to be an air of total unreality in the federal government, and especially in DFAT, when it comes not just to how the governments of our regional neighbours are responding, but more particularly community attitudes to the virus, testing and vaccination.
Our closest neighbour is Papua New Guinea and by far the most populous – upwards of eight million people.
The position in Papua New Guinea is alarming – for the good people of PNG and for Australia, and especially Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait.
The last official report from PNG authorities was issued late last week. The number of positive Covid-19 cases in PNG stood at 17,079 with 173 deaths. It is generally agreed these figures seriously understate the true position. The number of cases is almost certainly at least double that number.
But here is even more troubling statistics! Since the virus first hit PNG just 131,712 people have been tested (out of a population of close to 9 million). Just 49,333 people have been vaccinated (many only with the first vaccination) and the majority of those are health and essential service workers).
There is NO shortage of vaccines in PNG today. The donated vaccines from Australia, the international community and New Zealand are well over 200,000. Last week China delivered 200,000 of one of its vaccines.
But the problem in Papua New Guinea is much more serious than these bare statistics indicate – and they are serious enough.
I have commented in earlier articles that vaccine resistance is already a huge problem in Papua New Guinea. A survey earlier this year by "The National" newspaper revealed around 77% of respondents did not want to be vaccinated. I am told that since the vaccine roll out to the community at large began the take up rate has been alarmingly low. Even the PNG Health Minister has confirmed that.
But last week a DEVPOLICY blog revealed an even more alarming position that Canberra simply cannot ignore.
It is widely accepted that vaccine resistance is greatest among the rural majority in PNG – comprising 80% of the population. There is an expectation that the urban minority, including more educated citizens, will have higher acceptance.
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