The number of daily COVID-19 infections in Papua New Guinea has reached a record high, with 295 cases recorded in a 24-hour period.
Key points:

  • COVID-19 patients are being treated outside isolation wards in Port Moresby
  • A photo of a dying woman at the hospital has led to public outcry
  • Hospital workers say they are overwhelmed, and are predicting a further rise in “unexpected deaths”

The number of COVID-19 cases across the country has tripled over the past month, with the country’s major hospital reporting seven out of every 10 symptomatic patients are testing positive to coronavirus.
The surge is putting pressure on PNG’s already vulnerable health system, with the Port Moresby General Hospital warning that the spike in COVID-19 cases will lead to an increase in unexpected deaths.
PNG parliamentarian Richard Mendani died after contracting the virus, with pandemic controller David Manning announcing the death over the weekend.
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Mr Manning said the MP was the latest victim of the “invisible killer that spreads through the air”.
“Sadly his passing comes one year to the day after the first COVID-19 infection was detected in our country,” Mr Manning said.
“The threat of death from COVID-19 is real, and sadly the Late Honourable Member paid the ultimate price and lost his life because of this terrible virus.
Australia has pledged to provide 8,000 vaccines to immunise frontline health workers in Papua New Guinea.
Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea John Philp said he expected them to arrive this week.
PNG is making masks compulsory as it battles to control the outbreak.(ABC News: Natalie Whiting
Mr Philp said PNG’s health system was enormously stressed, with 90 per cent of beds at the Port Moresby intensive care unit full.
“Just in terms of numbers, the Port Moresby Hospital and the capital is really one of the major centres of the COVID-19 surge here,” Mr Philp said.
Photo of dying woman highlights hospital in crisis
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A photo of a woman who died outside the Port Moresby General Hospital while receiving treatment for asthma has been widely shared on social media, putting a spotlight on the capital’s stretched health facilities.
The hospital’s chief executive officer Paki Molumi said investigations were underway into the death of the woman, and urged the public to view the photo as the “true situation” of the hospital’s “overstressed and limited health workforce”.
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“As the number of COVID cases increase in the coming weeks, the limited staff at PMGH [Port Moresby General Hospital] will not be able to take care of everyone,” he said in a statement.
“We expect more of th[ese] incidents of unexpected deaths inside and outside the Emergency Department and the hospital car parks.”
More than 40 patients are being treated for COVID-19 in the Port Moresby hospital, with some moved to the general ward as the isolation ward is full.
The hospital in Papua New Guinea’s second main city of Lae has been forced to suspend services due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
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Alfred Mel, who works at the Angau Hospital in Lae, said an increase in patients admitted to the hospital might lead to a “health system collapse”. 
“Even before COVID we were struggling, and COVID is only exposing all the weaknesses that are inherent due to neglect,” Dr Mel said.
“You really have to be concerned about what’s happening with all the other areas of health in this country. COVID is only making it worse.”
New restrictions, including closing provincial borders and making masks mandatory, will be enforced across the country from today.
A team of Australian medical workers is expected to land in PNG tomorrow to provide assistance and assess the need for further deployments.