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The government of Papua New Guinea said on Tuesday it would restrict movement without imposing a full lockdown, as coronavirus infections in the Pacific nation skyrocketed.

PNG on Tuesday recorded 82 positive cases out of 91 tests processed in one day, which led the Australian state of Queensland to suspend charter flights at the OK Tedi copper and gold mine, one of the largest employers from the country.

Of the last 500 samples taken from PNG residents by Australian health workers, 250 of them came back positive, according to Queensland health officials.

James Marape, Prime Minister, warned that the country’s official total of 2,269 Covid-19 cases, including 26 deaths, was an undercount as it was based on those who showed up for testing.

Only 54,410 of PNG’s 9 million people have been tested, said Chief Superintendent of Police Dominic Kakas, spokesperson for the country’s Covid-19 task force.

“Community transmission has taken place. He got loose. We have to prevent it from spreading further, ”said Marape.

“If we don’t [take a] proactive response to this, our healthcare system will be clogged and we may not be able to support the epidemic that is currently unfolding.

He said health officials were considering “town by town or town and village, province by province, preventing people from entering and leaving.”

Officials carry the coffin of former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare during his funeral ceremony inside Parliament in Port Moresby © AFP via Getty Images

The country’s maritime borders with Australia and the Solomon Islands have been closed.

Marape urged people to stay in their districts and villages. He said the police and military will ensure people and public transport comply with public health measures.

There are fears of an increase in the number of cases after mass rallies were held this weekend to commemorate Sir Michael Somare, the first Prime Minister of PNG, who died last month.

Australian officials, who ran PNG’s affairs until independence in 1975, said they were monitoring the progress of the virus. Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister, said vaccines are being shipped to PNG to immunize frontline health workers.

“I am very concerned about the situation in PNG and we are monitoring this very closely and actively,” Dr Paul Kelly, Chief Medical Officer of Australia, said Tuesday.

He said vaccination had started in the Torres Strait, which separates the two countries. “They are currently vaccinating on Saibai Island, one of the Torres Strait islands very close to mainland PNG,” Kelly said.

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