Australia called on the EU to reject “vaccine protectionism” and allow the export of 1 million doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine to address a Covid-19 emergency in Papua New Guinea.
Canberra said on Wednesday that the governments of PNG and Australia will make a formal request to AstraZeneca and European authorities to allocate 1 million doses of Australia’s contracted supplies for distribution in PNG, one of the poorest countries. and the most distant in the world.
The initiative follows a warning this week from James Marape, Prime Minister of PNG, of an impending public health disaster in the country due to a “staggering” increase in Covid-19 cases. He said the infection rate could soon reach “one in three or four” and clog the health care system.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the PNG coronavirus crisis posed “very real risks” for northern Australia, which is only about 150 km from its nearest neighbor.
Canberra has suspended commercial flights to and from PNG and is sending medical supplies, personal protective equipment and 8,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to immunize healthcare workers.
In a direct appeal to the EU, which this month blocked A vaccine shipment to Australia amid concerns over its own supplies, Morrison urged the bloc to allow the export of vaccines contracted by Canberra to help PNG.
“Those [1m doses of] vaccines and their deployment would therefore, I think, follow the very public statements that have been made in the European Union about their commitment to ensure that there is no vaccine protectionism and that vaccines go to those who need it most, ”Morrison said.
Australia continued to roll out the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine despite several EU nations take a break their vaccination programs in relation to potential side effects, especially blood clots.
Italy’s decision to block a shipment of vaccines to Australia on the grounds that it was a “non-vulnerable country” has caused concern in Canberra, which has pledged to support the vaccination efforts of Pacific nations as well as its own residents.
Covax, the Covid-19 global vaccination center supported by the World Health Organization, has Only recently started sending small quantities of vaccines to the Pacific Islands, a cash-strapped region with limited public health resources.
Strict quarantine rules and remote geographic locations have saved Pacific countries from the worst of the pandemic. But PNG, a country of about 9 million people, has recently seen an increase in cases – a threat highlighted this month by the death of the deputy chief of the country’s pandemic response.
Testing for Covid-19 is also severely limited, meaning that official figures, which suggest just over 2,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, dramatically underestimate infection rates, experts have said.
Of the 500 most recent swabs taken from PNG residents by Australian health workers, 250 came back positive, according to Queensland health officials.
Jonathan Pryke, an analyst at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank, said the outbreak in PNG posed a huge risk for a country of just 500 doctors and 4,000 nurses.
“Almost a third of the staff at the main hospital in Port Moresby, the nerve center for the whole country, has Covid. They cannot be replaced if they die from this disease and must be vaccinated immediately, ”he said.
Pryke added that the health crisis could quickly turn into an economic crisis if expatriate staff from the hugely important mining industry were evacuated en masse.
Additional reporting by George Russell in Hong Kong