Papuan parliament reconvenes – despite positive Covid-19 cases among its members

AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru


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Papuan parliament reconvenes – despite positive Covid-19 cases among its members

Papua New Guinea reconvenes its parliament and reopen all schools. All despite an increase of Covid-19-infected citizens in the South Pacific nation. Among the positive coronavirus tests, over thirty are traced to people bound to the parliament, e.g., as members of parliament. 

In the pandemic reality outside the nation’s political center, conspiracy theories regarding the virus and the approaching nationwide vaccine program are on the rise.

By Klas Lundström

PAPUA NEW GUINEA “There are those who say that we are being used as ‘Guinea Pigs’ for Big Pharma,” Dominic Sengi, consultant at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, tells Global Magazine.

The South Pacific nation has reported a staggering increase of new documented cases of Covid-19 (see Global Magazine #305). But despite the alarming pandemic situation in the South Pacific Nation—“very concerning,” per the World Health Organization (WHO)—the national parliament in the capital Port Moresby has reconvened; despite a roster of positive tests for the coronavirus among its staff and politicians, which daily newspaper Post-Courier reported on Tuesday. 

Thirty-six people involved in parliamentary affairs—either as members of parliament, secretaries or political advisers—had tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday, April 19—a day prior to the reopening ceremony, per figures collected by Papuan reporters.

The reconvening was deemed necessary by the Clerk of Parliament Kala Aufa, who stated that strict and safe health protocols were to be taken to secure everyone’s well-being. Along with a host of bills to discuss and decide on, new Speaker Job Pomat was sworn in.

Struggling society

Meanwhile, schools reopened despite the serious spread of the coronavirus along the island nation with 8.9 million inhabitants. In the same vein, hotels and restaurants opened up for business at the start of the week; all at the time of a stated public health sector crisis, forced on its knees due to lack of personnel, equipment and adequate safety supplies. 

Among the public, the fear of Covid-19 is on the rise—as are rumors, spreading like wildfires in street corners and on social media. The national government and its agencies have long ago lost its trust among the general public, which have led people to seek information elsewhere, thus leaving the door ajar for conspiracy theories to root down amidst a serious and socially erupting pandemic.

“We are Guinea Pigs”

The global pharmaceutical community has been criticized and scrutinized for a Western Hemisphere prioritized vaccine distribution, along with side effects and deaths linked to the companies’ vaccines. The vaccination program in Papua New Guinea, due to start in earnest in May, has been the subject of a series of discredit campaigns. 

Among other things, the vaccine in question—AstraZeneca—is part of a larger conspiracy theory involving Papua New Guinea’s financial elite and their alleged agreements with Western-based pharmaceutical companies at the expense of cheaper vaccine alternatives from India or China.

“Critics say the nation has become a large ‘Guinea Pig’ laboratory for Big Pharma,” Dominic Sengi, consultant at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, tells Global Magazine.

Struggling health workers

Amidst the pandemic, in the reality beyond conspiracy theories—where Papuans try to avoid being contaminated by the coronavirus, while trying to make a living in times of financial insecurity and political lockdowns—Papua New Guinea’s governing bodies have a lot to do to regain the general public’s trust. A long-neglected healthcare sector has failed to meet the sudden need for care that has arisen with countless new Covid-19 patients— in addition to Papuans who require medical care for other illnesses and various health problems.

Frontline healthcare professionals, especially those living and working in Papua New Guinea’s isolated and rural areas, suffer great perils and have spoken out about their fear of becoming infected at work, mainly as a result of inadequate access to protective equipment, testing capacity and sufficient human resources, Doctors Without Borders stated in late March.

“The nation’s health care system has completely broken down under the pressure from a global scourge, one that this unsuspecting Pacific nation had never dreamt of coming at such intensity,” Dominic Sengi tells Global Magazine.

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