COVID-19 arrives in Papua New Guinea: what now?

Welcome,

With the first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in PNG announced at the weekend, there are warnings there could be essential-item shortages and changed working conditions, but business has been preparing for its arrival.

marape covid-19

Prime Minister Marape during the COVID-19 government announcement on 21 March. Credit: PNG Office of the Prime Minister

Now that Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape has identified the country’s first case of COVID-19 – reportedly an expatriate worker working at Harmony Gold’s Hidden Valley gold mine – the clock has started ticking to see how it is contained, just like it has in every other nation with a confirmed case of the virus.

The government immediately declared a 30-day state of emergency over the weekend, stopped all international flights and suspended domestic flights for 14 days. Movement between provinces has been suspended for two weeks and non-essential staff have been asked to remain at home for this period, starting 24 March. Banks have been designated essential services and will remain open.

The Prime Minister said that the government was in discussions with ‘banks and final institutions and super funds’ on ‘economic packages’. In almost all economies affected by the coronavirus, economic stimulus packages are being introduced.

‘We encourage our communities everywhere to take the precautions needed to protect their health and that of others. ‘

Already, the PNG Divers Association has written to Tourism Minister Emil Tammur requesting government support for PNG’s tourism sector, which has been badly affected by the pandemic.

‘As governments around the world race to introduce contingency measures to support their economies, we appeal to the National Government to do likewise and help tourism operators through these unprecedented and financially difficult times,’ wrote PNGDA President Max Benjamin in an open letter.

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Business prepares

With COVID-19 now in PNG, business is initiating the plans they have been working on for the past few weeks for just this eventuality.

‘Our team is being provided regular updates and information to keep themselves and their families safe, and we are reacting and adapting to the situation as it evolves taking guidance from the National Department of Health on their recommended key preventative measures,’ President of the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Rio Fiocco, said in a statement. ‘We encourage our communities everywhere to take the precautions needed to protect their health and that of others. As a global community we are all responsible to stop the spread of the virus, and to show compassion to one another.’

‘Try try not to be swept up in the flurry and havoc of some content and rely on information only from reliable sources – World Health Organisation, Morobe Provincial Health, St Johns and others,’ the President of Lae’s Chamber of Commerce, John Byrne, is advising members.

The Morobe Provincial Health Authority has launched an official Facebook page to provide information related to the coronavirus.

‘We are working to the PNG Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan and note that this plan will continue to change as does the situation,’ says Chef Scovell of the Manufacturers Council of Papua New Guinea. ‘Business focus is on promoting the importance of good hygiene, social distancing and screening [temperature checks].’

But Scovell does anticipate that, despite PNG’s wealth of potential for growing and supplying its own food, there will be some disruption on the supermarket shelves.

‘Many commentators have noted our ability to rely on local produce, we are mindful that our markets may not be in operation as a critical control measure is to cease activities that bring people close together,’ he says. ‘We anticipate this will place an even greater reliance on dried food products, so we will need to ensure there is a working supply chain for those manufacturers.’

Scovell noted that with new restrictions seemingly placing a ban on goods coming out of major supply markets he expects some hiccups. ‘Noting the global history we will likely be under increasing levels of duress for several months, left unchecked there are possibilities PNG will face shortages of essential items,’ he adds.

Calm down

Retailers such was City Pharmacy are already appealing for calm among shoppers looking to buy essential supplies.

KK Kingston Managing Director, Michael Kingston, recently told Business Advantage PNG that he had noted some of the overseas panic buying spreading to PNG.

‘The mob mentality, paranoia and overacting that is happening in Australia is starting to happen here,’ he said. Kingston says he is regularly fielding calls from customers who are calling for certain products, but this does not mean that manufacturers can suddenly ramp up production.

‘Like most things, opportunities and crises go hand-in-hand and there is obviously a big demand for some of the things we make, things like hand sanitiser and toilet paper and bleach,’ Kingston says. ‘That’s a good thing but the problem is that you cannot make new raw materials magically appear out of thin air; there is a lead time and this is not a development we anticipated or that we built up raw material stocks for, so we are unable to capitalise on the opportunities.’

Scovell notes that disruption to supply chains is nothing new to manufacturers.

‘From the outset of this outbreak, especially as outputs from China slowed due to their own mitigations, local manufactures have constantly assessed their inventories and supply chains to ensure they can continue operations,’ he said.

One advantage PNG has is that is has been able to watch how other nations have responded to the challenge presented by the coronavirus. In all these cases communication is key.

‘The Manufacturers Council of PNG is working closely with sister associations and Government on an agreed, streamlined communications pathway to share information and seek assistance as we collectively manage our way through the entry of this virus to PNG,’ said Scovell.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Uraliu says

    Things do happen for a purpose.”

  2. Jack Kuruma says

    GoPNG is liable for lives that might be caused by COVID-19. For the 10 million that was allocated purposely for testing of COVID-19 was spent on counterfeit machines. Which didn’t give the exact test resulting 1 positive which has already transmitted to more who were together travelling from POM to Lae then to mine site. Otherwise there should be a complete ban on foreign trips. From frustrating Citizen

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