‘Stay or go’: Six new cases as PNG flights suspended
Queensland has recorded six new COVID-19 cases overnight as flights from hotspot Papua New Guinea are suspended from midnight tonight.
The new cases were all overseas acquired and detected in hotel quarantine.
It comes as North Queensland is ground zero for the growing risk of COVID-19 spreading to Australia from an outbreak in PNG, which includes the potential for a new mutant strain to develop.
Cairns-based fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers could be stranded in PNG, or separated from work, as flights are to be cut from midnight with Prime Minister Scott Morrison advising they will need to "FI or FO" - or pick whether they would be staying or leaving.
Mr Morrison on Wednesday morning announced a series of measures not only to stop the spread of the virus within PNG, one of our nearest neighbours, but to protect Australia.
"Queenslanders, particularly in north Queensland are most at risk from this," he said.
"We've been very conscious of that and these measures are decided very much with them in mind."
From midnight passenger flights from PNG to Cairns will be suspended for a fortnight, with the decision reviewed at that time.
All charter flights from PNG to Australia will be stopped with the exception of medevac and other critical flights.
Passenger caps on flights from Port Morseby, the PNG capital, to Brisbane will be reduced by one quarter.
Outbound travel exemptions for Australians wanting to head to PNG will also be suspended except for humanitarian and critical workers.
"This will include no general FIFO workers. You FI or you FO. If you're there, you stay. If you're here, you stay," Mr Morrison said.
"We cannot risk people going into those areas and bringing it back to Australia."
Pre-flight testing already taking place 96 hours before departure will be moved up to 24 hours beforehand.
There is a strong risk to Queensland, with the western province of PNG very close to the Torres Strait with strong movement between the islands.
Queensland Health will ramp up efforts to increase vaccination in the Torres Strait, with a rollout having already begun, and assist with the rollout in western provinces of PNG.
A large range of personal protective equipment is being supplied, including more than 1 million medical masks, 200,000 P2 respirator masks and more ventilators.
An AUSMAT medical team, which is deployed to disaster zones, will be deployed on Monday with a clinical response team for follow soon after.
There will be 8000 vaccine doses supplied for PNG frontline medical workers, while Mr Morrison has begun pressuring the European Union to stop blocking the passage of 1 million vaccine doses meant for Australia so they can be diverted to PNG as soon as possible.
There is potential for Australian-made vaccines meant for domestic supply to be diverted if this does not happen.
"We all know the Kokoda story. They were there for us, we will be there for them," the Prime Minister said.
"They're our family, they're our friends, our neighbours and our partners.
"This is in Australia's interest, this is in our region's interest."
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there was a risk a mutant strain of COVID-19 could develop in PNG.
"An uncontained pandemic is how variants of concern come to be," he said.
"We don't have any indication of that at the moment, but it's important for us to get that outbreak under control."
Prof Kelly said there had been an increase in recent weeks of people coming from PNG to Queensland, which had added pressure on the state's health system with all COVID cases being sent to hospital.
He said there had been 32 cases from PNG into Queensland since March 15.
Originally published as 'Stay or go': Six new cases as PNG flights suspended