Very real risk to Australia': PM's warning

 

Australia will request a million AstraZeneca doses meant for use onshore be diverted to Papua New Guinea, as the island nation deals with an out-of-control second COVID-19 wave.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unveiled a range of measures aimed at supporting PNG through the outbreak, which he said posed "very real risks" to northern Australia.

The federal government has requested doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine ordered from Europe be sent to PNG instead, and will gift 8000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine stocks to support PNG frontline health workers from next week.

Other PPE equipment, including masks and sanitiser, will be sent to the island nation.

"They're our family, they're our friends, they're our neighbours, they're our partners. They have always stood with us and we will always stand with them," he said.

"This is in Australia's interests and, it is in our region's interests, and it's incumbent on us as Australians both to secure the health of our own citizens, but equally our PNG family who are so dear to us."

Mr Morrison said testing had been ramped up testing across the Torres Strait and implemented pre-departure testing of people coming from PNG.

But he announced a range of travel restrictions on Wednesday, including a ban on fly-in, fly-out workers.

All passenger flights from PNG to Cairns will be suspended for a fortnight, while travel exemptions for people travelling to PNG will be suspended, barring critical and aid workers.

"If you're there, you stay. If you're here, you stay. We cannot risk people going into those areas and back to Australia," Mr Morrison said.

A critical planning AUSMAT team will be dispatched to PNG next week, while Australia has requested support from the US, India and Japan to provide technical assistance for PNG's vaccine rollout.

Mr Morrison said the challenge of containing COVID-19 was "always going to be too great" for PNG.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the situation in PNG has "very rapidly" escalated, with over half the cases diagnosed in PNG discovered in the past few weeks.



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