Delta spike challenging business plans in Papua New Guinea


While businesses have adjusted to Papua New Guinea’s Niupela Pasin protocols for managing COVID-19, the Delta strain is proving a major challenge. Business Advantage PNG examines how the business community is responding.

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Yesterday, after days of speculation, the National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop confirmed that there will be no lockdown for Port Moresby. Instead, efforts to contain the coronavirus spread will focus on a more effective medical response and a vaccination drive.

The decision came after consultation with stakeholders, including the business community, with the Deputy National Pandemic Response Controller Dr Daoni Esorom admitting that ‘it’s not possible to enforce a lockdown in full.’

‘Our social and economic situation is very fragile and delicate,’ he said. ‘The economy has slowed down, unemployment is high, businesses are fragile and teetering on collapsing.’

Niupela pasin measures will continue to be enforced and, Esorom suggested, people are being advised to stay at home if possible.

Under PNG’s National Pandemic Act, National Pandemic Controller David Manning has the authority to override the ‘no-lockdown’ decision if the numbers continue to rise.

PNG reported 258 confirmed new cases on 24 October and 3,058 confirmed active cases.

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‘There’s certainly a rapid spike in cases in Lae, without a doubt,’ the President of the Lae Chamber of Commerce John Byrne tells Business Advantage PNG. ‘There’s hardly a business that hasn’t been touched.’

Lae has put a temporary ban on gatherings of more than 20 people on public places. Meanwhile, East New Britain Province is considering a 14-day lockdown because of the surge in COVID-19 cases there.

Byrne said, however, that lockdowns just wouldn’t work in PNG.

‘Our business people live hand-to-mouth, week-to-week here, so we have to keep business and the economy going.’

The cost for business

Lockdown or not, there is no doubt that the Delta wave is putting enormous pressure on the business community.

‘All the adjustments that needed to be made have been done,’ Douveri Henao, Executive Director of the Business Council of PNG tells Business Advantage PNG. ‘They’ve got all the COVID niupela pasin protocols in place, supply chains have really slimmed down and have the right type of model to operate.

‘The business continuity plans are now fully in action but the Delta spike is really going to test those continuity plans.’

The President of the PNG Chamber of Commerce and Industry and CEO of Nasfund, Ian Tarutia, told The National that business have spent about K400 million because of COVID-19’s direct impact on business. The cost of quarantine, disruption to supply chains, providing personal protective items for the staff, loss of productivity and setting up hybrid operations, among other expenses have added up.

Vaccination in businesses

Employers are taking different paths in encouraging their staff to get vaccinated, but making vaccination mandatory is problematic.

PNG’s Department of Labour and Industrial Relations has written to at least one business warning them that ‘discriminative practices requiring testing, isolation, quarantine and monitoring, including mandatory vaccination should be avoided at all cost’.

This has not stopped employers such as the National Capital District Commission from insisting on a ‘no jab, no entry’ policy for its workers and others from insisting unvaccinated staff undergo COVID-19 tests at their own cost before being allowed to work.

Encouragement from employers and rising case numbers does appear to be influencing behaviour.

‘Vaccination rates have improved dramatically in Port Moresby,’ Rio Fiocco, President of the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry tells Business Advantage PNG. John Byrne also notes a ‘flood of vaccinations’ in Lae.

Fiocco notes new permanent vaccination centres at Vision City in Waigani and Waterfront in Konedobu were having a positive impact, but says the NCD government ‘should be doing more’, especially with offering mobile vaccination services.

‘We’re encouraging all our members and their staff to get vaccinated.’



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