Australia boosts support to Covid-hit Papua New Guinea

Sydney (AFP) –


A second team of Australian medical experts flew to Covid-hit Papua New Guinea Friday, as the country's health system threatens to buckle under a growing outbreak.

The 17 specialists were dispatched to Port Moresby to help the Pacific nation curb the spread of the virus, Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.

"As we work through global vaccine issues, we will continue to work with PNG to roll out vaccines in response to the priorities of the PNG Government," Payne said.

The team joins a smaller group of experts already on the ground and comes as Australia continues to fly emergency supplies, including protective equipment, rapid testing kits and over 8,000 vaccine doses, into the country.

PNG, a poor nation of over eight million off Australia's northeast coast, reported around a thousand Covid-19 cases in the first year of the pandemic, but has seen more than 5,000 new infections last month alone.

On Wednesday that number ticked towards 8,000 amid concerns a lack of testing was hiding the true scale of the outbreak.

Hospitals have been forced to turn away new patients due to a lack of medical staff, who are testing positive in large numbers.

The country's health minister has also flagged vaccine disinformation on social media as a growing threat to vaccination efforts.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison reaffirmed commitments to secure AstraZeneca vaccines for Pacific neighbours -- flagging a further 10,000 doses for PNG.

"I already have diverted a number of those vaccines to assist the effort in both Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste," Morrison told media in Canberra.