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Tension grows as PNG cases push Qld to top of the Covid infection list


As Australia’s closest neighbour struggles with a COVID-19 epidemic, one official has revealed the “tense” discussions about a dangerous shortage of vaccines.

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More than a year after the pandemic began, Queensland now has the most active cases in Australia. Around half of Queensland’s cases were acquired in Papua New Guinea, which is facing a major health crisis on Australia’s doorstep.

There are now 67 active cases of COVID-19 in Queensland after another four cases were detected in hotel quarantine and transferred to hospital overnight.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told parliament the new cases included two people who had travelled from Papua New Guinea and another who had transited through the country.

Australia is sending vaccines and clinicians to help Papua New Guinea deal with the outbreak and pleading with European countries to help release more vaccines.

Federal Department of Health secretary told a Senate estimates committee hearing today diplomats and even AstraZeneca were involved in the lobbying.

“It’s a very tense and ongoing discussion,” Murphy said, unable to predict whether the talks would be successful.

“If we don’t succeed in getting any overseas ones we will certainly be discussing with government about whether we can deploy some more of our local product.”

Queensland Health is vaccinating communities in the Torres Strait as a priority, and will take the extraordinary step of allowing staff to cross the border to help vaccinate neighbouring Papua New Guinea villages. Australia has so far provided 8,000 doses to Papua New Guinea but that is expected to increase.

Palaszczuk said Queensland Health “really stood up” when needed and her government would “make sure that we protect Queenslanders and keep everyone safe”.

“The threat of the pandemic is still with us,” Palaszczuk said.

“We have to stay on guard.”

Australia recently restricted travel from Papua New Guinea, however there has been a steady stream of cases among people already in hotel quarantine in Queensland. More than 45,000 health and hotel quarantine workers in the state have been vaccinated as a precaution.

Parts of Papua New Guinea are in lockdown and the health system is in danger of being overwhelmed by a growing number of COVID-19 cases, with many health workers already infected.

The official number of people infected is around 4,000 but is feared to be much higher, and growing by hundreds of cases a day.

Palaszczuk has lobbied for a new, self-contained quarantine facility to be established at Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport, however Prime Minister Scott Morrison has instead backed the continuation of hotel quarantine.

A petition from 5,902 people opposed to the Toowoomba option, including wealthy local businessman and benefactor Clive Berghofer, was tabled in parliament today.

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