Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Questions without Notice
Papua New Guinea: COVID-19
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. Will the Minister update the Senate on the impact of COVID-19 on Papua New Guinea and advise how Australia is supporting our close friend and neighbour?
I thank Senator McDonald for her very important question. As the Prime Minister and I announced this morning, Australia is standing with Papua New Guinea as they respond to a serious and widespread outbreak in COVID cases. The Prime Minister, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and I, and our High Commissioner in Port Moresby, have been in regular contact with our Papua New Guinea colleagues and the Papua New Guinea government on how we can partner to assist in the response effort. There have been 2,479 cases officially reported, which is a surge of over 1,180 since 27 February. While the outbreak is concentrated in Port Moresby, there are cases in provinces across Papua New Guinea and, sadly, there have been 31 recorded deaths.
Australia has responded to our nearest neighbour in our Pacific family through the pivot of our aid program under our Partnerships for Recovery and our COVID-19 response plans. The work that we've announced today is in strong partnership with Papua New Guinea, based on their priorities and their needs. I noted earlier that our High Commissioner has been working closely with the Papua New Guinea government to ensure our support is well targeted to Papua New Guinea's needs. Indeed, his team are also part of Papua New Guinea's national COVID-19 technical working group. Over the last week, Australia has assisted to increase the number of beds available for COVID patients and funded St John Ambulance PNG, to increase its capacity. That's for patient transport, for COVID testing and for PPE distribution to clinics. Australia has also added ballast to Papua New Guinea's National Control Centre for COVID-19. From our own experience we know that communications, risk and quarantine management are absolutely critical. We'll work closely with our partners in Papua New Guinea, particularly the health authorities and the National Control Centre for COVID-19, in addressing this crisis.
With the agreement of Papua New Guinea, Australia will provide 8,000 vaccine doses from our stocks to fill a critical gap, while the Covax Facility, to which Australia has also contributed, prepares to deliver vaccines to Papua New Guinea. That focus will be for frontline workers, who are very exposed at the moment. We're providing $144 million to support Papua New Guinea's priorities and planning in their own vaccine program. With the agreement of Papua New Guinea, Australia is also asking AstraZeneca and European authorities to access one million doses of our contracted supplies for Papua New Guinea. Today, Defence will transport 2,000 tents for safe triaging, referral and transfer of patients outside Port Moresby General Hospital. We'll provide surgical masks, P2/N95 respirator masks, protective gowns and goggles, gloves, sanitiser and face shields. Our AUSMAT team, which arrives on Monday, will work with Papua New Guinea authorities on infection control, triage and public health measures.
As the government has announced, from tonight we will suspend passenger flights from Papua New Guinea to Cairns for a two-week period. I want to assure colleagues and assure the Senate that freight will continue, to make sure that the movement of essential and humanitarian supplies is available and continues for Papua New Guinea. We will also suspend charter flights from Papua New Guinea, with limited exemptions. We will reduce passenger caps from Port Moresby to Brisbane. We will suspend outbound travel exemptions to Papua New Guinea other than for essential workers.
Australia and Papua New Guinea are working in partnership to prevent cross-border transmission, including in the Torres Strait, where, of course, family and cultural cross-border connections are strong. Our vaccine support will also include Papua New Guinea's Western province. Non-government organisations will play an important role in community engagement and mobilisation activities for these programs. I also want to acknowledge the support of Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt, and Queensland Health, which is cooperating in the vaccination— (Time expired)