Papua New Guinea authorities have approved a mass burial to take pressure off Port Moresby’s hospital morgue where bodies are stacked on top of each other as COVID-19 cases surge.
The burial of more than 200 bodies comes as health teams around the country report being attacked as they took part in vaccination programs.
National Pandemic Response Controller David Manning has authorised the burial of 200 bodies out of more than 300 at the morgue which was built to cater for only 60, The National newspaper reports.
National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop said refrigerated containers had been installed to store more bodies and a mass burial was planned for this week.
The PNG capital is bracing for a possible lockdown this week to try to reduce coronavirus cases and deaths in a city where 99% of COVID cases admitted to the general hospital are unvaccinated.
National health board deputy chair Mathias Sapuri said a two-week lockdown across PNG was the only way to control the COVID-19 surge.
“The virus stops moving when people stop moving,” he said.
Governor Parkop earlier this month said he would oppose any further lockdowns in Port Moresby because of the costs of previous ones but the latest surge in cases appears to have changed his mind.
“If the doctors tell me that we have to lock down because they cannot cope any more, then I will follow their advice,” he told The National.
Other regions in PNG have already imposed lockdowns and curfews in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
PNG has officially confirmed 26,731 coronavirus cases and 329 deaths but it is believed many more cases and deaths are going unreported in the nation of nine million where vaccination hesitancy is reported to be high.
Vaccine hesitancy has been a major issue and cause for concern in PNG, where less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
Last week, in the second largest city, Lae, community health workers were harassed and threatened at the centre of town during a mobile awareness and vaccination drive in the city centre.
The incident on 18 October was caught on camera, showing bystanders throwing rocks and shouting at health workers.
“The situation was so tense. The public started throwing stones and running towards the vaccination team with sticks, iron rods, and stones,” said Emmanuel Saem Jr who witnessed the scene.
“The crowd shouted at the health care workers, saying: ‘Karim 666 chip goh!’ (Take the 666 chip away) or ‘Karim microchip goh!’ (Take the microchip away).”
No injuries were reported from the incident and police were called in to disperse the tense crowd, but witnesses say that people who wanted the vaccine were intimidated by some of the mob.
After the incident, the mobile vaccination awareness drive was abandoned. Vaccinations are now only offered at the country’s second largest referral hospital, Angau General Hospital, and at smaller suburban clinics.
The Morobe Provincial Health Authority did not respond to request for comment, however health workers in the province stated that people don’t seem to take the virus seriously.
“People are not observing the new normal. People are just too complacent or just don’t believe COVID-19 is real,” said Dr Alex Peawi, head of Angau Hospital’s Emergency Hospital.
On Friday, a health team reportedly administering childhood vaccinations for polio in Lae were attacked by someone who believed they were giving out Covid-19 vaccinations, according to the Post Courier.
Health experts in Morobe fear that the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to rise because of the province’s proximity to the Eastern Highlands Province, currently a COVID hotspot.
Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands and Enga are experiencing a surge in the number of Delta variant cases. Hospitals in all three provinces are experiencing a shortage of supplies and manpower and are scaling down services to deal with the outbreak.
AAP contributed to this report