PNG COVID-19 cases likely to be underestimated

9 February 2021

The low number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases reported   in Papua New Guinea is likely to be underestimated

Secretary of the Department of Health, Dr Osborne Liko made these remarks at  a press briefing on   Covid-19 Response and Preparations for Covid-19 Vaccine on Monday, 8 February 2021 , in Port  Moresby.

“While the numbers of the total reported cases and deaths are low compared to other countries, it is highly likely to be an underestimation. And death caused by Covid-19 in PNG is one too many.”

Dr Liko explains, ” these are not just  numbers, but people. Each person has a name and  a story. And each name is someone’s mother, father, child, brother, sister or grandparent.”

Dr Liko believes that one of the reasons for underestimating the  extent of COVID-19 cases and deaths is the lower testing rates  in the country compared to others.

“Our low testing rates mean that we are potentially missing cases, and the virus is likely to be far more widespread.

“So we cannot let our guard down. We cannot let the numbers give us a false sense of security.”

Dr Liko also noted the high number of cases reported in  provinces, as a  result of  more testing  undertaken.

“We know that we have large-scale community transmission in West New Britain and the National Capital District. While New Ireland, Western and Morobe province are considered to have localized community transmission.

“Almost all infections were locally acquired and not linked to specific groups or locations.”

He said  that there  was  a steady increase in influenza-like illnesses and severe acute respiratory infections around the country, adding swabbing and testing those individuals for COVID-19  was rarely done.

“Because the symptoms are usually the same as what we observe in COVID-19 patients – if we don’t test them, we could very likely be missing COVID-19 cases.”

He further cautioned citizens to  wear  masks in public or enclosed places, frequent hand washing, and physical distancing, as measures to stop or slow   virus transmission  and save lives.

“This will help prevent not just COVID-19 transmission, but many diseases, including influenza, diarrheal diseases and tuberculosis (TB).

“We know that avoiding or limiting time spent in enclosed and crowded spaces, including haus krais, bride prices ceremonies, among others,  will help prevent transmission,” Dr Liko added.

Older adults and people with underlying chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and tuberculosis, have been urged to take  every  precaution  to guard against the spread of the  virus.

Meanwhile, the National Department of Health with support from World Health Organisation (WHO), and partners, are making every effort to increase access to COVID-19 testing in all healthcare facilities throughout the country.

“It is equally important that people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms must seek testing from their nearby health facility.”

Dr Liko further explained that, symptoms of COVID-19  do vary, with some patients experiencing no symptoms, but mild cases often experience fever, cough, headache and fatigue.

“Moderate symptoms may include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or mild-pneumonia.

“Severe symptoms may include severe pneumonia, organ failure and death. If you or a family member are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important you get tested at a health facility near you.”

Dr Liko urged all citizens and residents to  call  COVID-19  Hotline on 1-800-200 for advice on where to go to get tested.

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