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Tight control of movement in the main towns near the Papua New Guinea’s border with Indonesia

Control point on the Papua New Guinea - Indonesia border. Photo: RNZ. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PORT MORESBY, Apr 30, 2020, RNZ. Measures against the spread of covid-19 have changed the pace of life in the main towns of Papua New Guinea’s North Fly district. The district, in remote Western Province, has three of PNG’s eight confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far. The three were among villagers who travel regularly across PNG’s nearby border with Indonesia, Radio New Zealand reported.

After confirmation of the cases two weeks ago, provincial health officials stepped up efforts to restrict public movements, keep people at home and maintain hygiene standards. These efforts have been supported by a deployment of extra police to the province.

A local consultant Peter Joseph, says people are adhering to the measures in the normally bustling town of Kiunga.

“You go to all the shops in Kiunga they’re actually going by the measures put in place: (having people) wash their hands before going through the shop, and maintaining the social distancing.

“So not a lot of people on the street. used to be thousands, and now it’s just probably fifteen or twenty people walking around for critical supplies.”

Kiunga, with a population of around ten thousand, is a key inland port on the Fly River which services operations at the massive Ok Tedi gold and copper mine, around a hundred kilometres to the north.

Movement in and out of the mine’s adjoining town of Tabubil, which has a similar population size to Kiunga, is also reportedly being tightly monitored to ward off the threat of covid-19.

“Police and health department personnel have set up an infrastructure where they do their checks,” Mr Joseph explained.

“If you’re coming from Kiunga, you’ll be quarantined for fourteen days before you are sort of released into the community.

“They’ve got all these posts that you need to see, details that you need to submit forms about, that kind of thing, so they’re able to track you where ever you are or if you start feeling some symptoms of covid.”

Meanwhile, Mobile Squad police personnel are working alongside the PNG Defence Force who have increased the level of patrols along the porous international border.

Confirmed covid-19 cases in neighbouring West Papua now number over two hundred, with seven deaths so far, according to Indonesia’s Health Ministry.

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