Papua New Guinea in lockdown: what it means for you and your business


After the coronavirus (COVID-19) arrived in Papua New Guinea this weekend, Prime Minister James Marape acted swiftly to shut the country down for 14 days – but what does that mean in practice?

marape covid-19

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

Yesterday was the first day of a two-week shutdown of Papua New Guinea, after the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in an expat worker at the Harmony Gold’s Hidden Valley gold mine, who has since been transferred to Australia and is described as ‘fit and well’.

Moving faster, and more aggressively, than many of its neighbours, Prime Minister James Marape announced an immediate 14-day lockdown and declared a State of Emergency.

Measures include:

  • No public travelling from district to district or province to province in the country.
  • All schools to remain shut for 14 days.
  • Essential services will be maintained including health services, public utilities, banks, shops, fuel stations, police and defence.
  • All employers including public services should scale down workers in this period to ensure a safe work place from the spread of COVID-19.
  • The defence force will be on standby to assist police.

The situation in Lae

LCCI’s John Byrne. Credit: BAI

John Byrne from the Lae Chamber of Commerce (LCCI) has provided some of the clearest idea of how the lockdown will affect businesses and consumers in the country’s second largest city.

‘Needless to say there is and will be a lot of confusion as is evidenced by the PMV and staff buses being stopped this morning and stores being told to close along 7th Street,’ Byrne said in a statement. ‘On Sunday afternoon a Lae/Morobe Task Force was set up to handle such matters and to attempt to have clear directives that keep our city free and moving.’

He added that the highway will be open to trucks only and it is suggested they travel in a convoy with military escorts and contain a single driver and no passengers.

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Byrne confirmed that stores and manufacturers were free to operate but with as few staff as possible. Groups of more than five should not congregate in a premises. The main markets will be closed for 14 days. Street gatherings, including religious and artistic get-togethers, will be peacefully dispersed.

‘I have had the pleasure of meeting with the central bank, as well as all bank CEOs, plus the two super funds, with the view that specific economic interventions be made.’

‘Whilst this creates some duress for our people, the settlements and streets will have “pop-up” stores where our people can sell and buy,’ Byrne said. ‘Again, limitation of group size is paramount in controlling any potential case which may occur.’

Financial impact

Pre-empting measures that have been adopted in many other COVID-19-affected countries, including near-neighbour Australia. Marape also announced he had met with banks, including the Bank of PNG, to discuss a stimulus package, the details of which are yet to be announced.

‘I have had the pleasure of meeting with central bank as well as all the bank CEOs, plus the two super funds, with the view that specific economic interventions be made for employees, individuals and business in our country struggling as a result of this crisis we are in,’ Marape said.

Marape has also declared today, 25 March, a national day of prayer and fasting.

In a follow-up address, Police Minister Bryan Kramer said they were not relaxing measures just because the infected person had been flown out. He also reiterated that fuel, medicines and food would be moving freely around the country

‘It is our people that we are restricting the movement of,’ he said, seeking to reassure Papua New Guineans that supply lines would remain open.

Business involvement

To ensure that business is closely involved in the management of the SOE, representatives from peak business organisations such chambers of commerce, the Business Council of PNG and the Manufacturers Council have being embedded in PNG’s National Operations Centre 19 to provide real-time information to government, and to enable the quick circulation of information to business.

They will also be acting as a channel to request exemptions for business to the SOE provisions, and ensure movement of essential cargo.

A number of businesses have made announcements about their plans for the shutdown.

Managing Director of Steamships, Michael Scantlebury shared, ‘our responsibility to provide critical services to the people of PNG through our shipping, logistics and property businesses is most important at this time.’

Steamships, which includes Consort Express Lines, Pacific Towing, Joint Venture Port Services, East West Transport, Coral Sea Hotels and Pacific Palms Property told PNG’s stock exchange PNGX that ‘the SOE will have an adverse impact on the results of Steamships Trading Company Limited, but it is too early to estimate the magnitude as we have not experienced such an environment before and, ultimately, this will depend on the overall economic impact to PNG of COVID-19 and the speed and nature of the recovery.’

Air Niugini is maintaining air freight services between Port Moresby and Brisbane and Cairns.

Has your business got an announcement to make about COVID-19 or the State of Emergency?

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  1. noah mikezz says

    i think 1month lockdown should be batter for us PNGEAN

  2. NCD PHA will not be screening any new TB cases during the 14 days lock down period. Screening will only be offered until and unless the case concerned is too sick and is not able to walk. These ones will have to report to the accidents and emergency at Gerehu Hospital. Very sick ones that need admission will be referred to the Port Moresby General Hospital.

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