(Reuters) – Concerted international action is needed to support Papua New Guinea as a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the Pacific country’s health system, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Monday.
Coronavirus cases in the island nation of 9 million have been surging in recent weeks, with 385 new cases recorded on Thursday, according to latest available government data.
There have been 26,731 officially confirmed cases and 329 deaths in the country 150 km (90 miles) north of Australia.
Less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data figures, although the government anticipated months ago that it would have enough shots by now for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated.
Misinformation, public apprehension, and logistical challenges with the rollout have slowed down vaccinations, the Red Cross said.
“Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks,” Uvenama Rova, PNG Red Cross secretary general, said in a statement.
According to the PNG National Control Centre for COVID-19, all major hospitals have been hit with rising cases.
“We’re at the moment barely managing with the existing load,” Gary Nou, team leader for Emergency Medical Team at the National Centre, was quoted as saying last week in a statement on the centre’s website.
A medical team from Australia arrived in Port Moresby this month, and Britain was also to send a team.
While some other nations in the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, have also had sluggish vaccine rollouts, the tiny nation of Palau had 99% of its population over 12 vaccinated by mid-October, while Fiji had 96% of eligible people with one dose, the Red Cross said this month.
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