At 4:17pm this afternoon, Prime Minister James Marape, announced to an expectant Papua New Guinea, that the country had its first locally-detected COVID-19 case.
Three and a half weeks after it announced its first case, an expatriate worker who was returning to the country, and who had travelled through Spain and Singapore, before landing in Port Moresby, and transiting to Lae.
This second COVID-19 positive case was detected in East New Britain.
Prime Minister Marape explained to the media, and the country, that the 40-year-old woman, who had a history of asthma, had presented flu-like symptoms at Nonga Base Hospital on the 23rd of March.
When making the announcement, Prime Minister Marape said the lady had been one of three persons of interest, whose samples had been sent for testing.
Two of the samples had returned negative, while the third, was positive.
By the evening, and after what had been reported on facebook as nursing and hospital staff fleeing Nonga Base after watching the 6pm EMTV National News, Deputy Chief Physician at Nonga, Dr Alex Maha was live on Radio East New Britain, with the interview simulcast throughout the National Broadcasting Corporation’s National Radio service, calling for calm.
“Firstly, I will explain this first case we have. She is recovering well at her residence. She is quite well. She is recovering. The specimen we collected and sent away for testing, we have this positive result,” Dr. Maha began.
He explained that everything that had been activated upon the positive test notification, were part of processes that medical authorities had been practicing and preparing for, for the past one and half months.
“We took all of these precautions. Like we said before. That we would take every precaution we had to, to protect our people. We have a response strategy in palce. And now that we have this case, we are responding. And we will trace down all known contacts of this case.”
“Wherever they are. Some we have contact. Some of them, we will continue to make contact with them tonight. We will reassure them, and advise them that in the next couple of days, we will be coming around to see them, and to make sure they are okay.”
He then reassured the listening public, that there was no need for alarm.
“I will repeat the call from our Controller, and our PPC, that there is no need to panic. Because the main thing is that we know where this case is. We know all related contacts. And even tonight, we are responding and taking steps to defeat this virus. We have all heard the health minister, every night. Repeating the same message: “The virus doesn’t move. People move the virus.”
Dr. Maha then continued to reassure the people of East New Britain, that despite this new detection, and the measures being implemented to contain a potential spread, that life, could continue as normal.
“One important message I want to leave with you all, is that many things have not changed.
“The number one rule, if you want to avoid getting this virus, is to stay at home. If you don’t need to go out, stay at home. If you need to go to the shops, or you need to leave your house for something important, always maintain your distance from other people. Do not stand close to others. Do not touch others. Do not touch the things that other people touch. Like door knobs and handles. Do not share cups, or pens, or other things. And always remember to wash your hands with soap regularly,” said Dr. Maha, before reiterating that leaving the house for no reason at all, was not good enough a reason to risk your family’s safety.”
“This 14-day lockdown happened, and we in East New Britain said we would use this 14-day lockdown to fix our surveillance methods. To prepare our response. To get everything prepared for that day when we would have our first local case. And that day, is today.”
An impassioned Dr. Maha reminded listeners, and health and disciplined forces personnel in the province, that the best weapon against the spread of this viral threat, was unity.
“Nothing has changed. And we should be thankful that we have detected this case, so we can now respond to it. And we have an opportunity now. An opportunity to contain it.
He appealed to his colleagues at Nonga Base Hospital. From where the patient was first treated.
“I am talking to all my colleagues. All my colleague health workers Especially those at Nonga. We have an opportunity now, that we will not recive again.
“All health workers, and police officers in this province. Tonight will not come again. This chance will not come again. We have to be united. And we have to respond.
We have to do everything we can, in the next 24, 48 hours.”
“This is not the time for us to argue. This is not the time for us to be selfish. We have a lot of concerns about our own personal safety. Yes those are justified. But the best way, to protect our families, is to contain this virus tonight. And tomorrow and tomorrow night, and the day after that.
“We will not have this chance again. If we find reasons not to act. If we find reasons to beliee we are not going to protect ourselves, by not being part of this exercise, I’m sorry. That will not work.
“And if we do not join hands and work together, we are letting down our children. We are letting down our families. Our communities.”
And one final plea for medical staff to stand together.
“And to my colleagues at Nonga, you know me. You know that I would not ask you to do something that I, myself, would not be prepared to do. So I am asking you tonight. To be part of us. To come and help us, because together, we can contain this. But if we don’t contain it tonight, and tomorrow, and tomorrow night, and the day after that, our families will pay the price.”
He ended with a final plea to everyone in the province to stay home, if they have no reason to go out.
“Everyone is looking at us now. And either we will work together and contain this, or we will not,” Dr. Maha ended.