PNG FIFO flights to Australia halted

FLIGHTS between major Papua New Guinean mines and Cairns have been halted indefinitely as PNG struggles to deal with its COVID-19 crisis.
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Flights from PNG to Cairns have been halted

PNG has reported more than 900 new cases of COVID-19 in the past two weeks after virtually eradicating the virus in late 2020.

The Australian government has also agreed to a request for assistance from PNG and will partner with it on a comprehensive COVID-19 support package.

While fly-in, fly-out flights have been ceased, freight flights will continue to maintain emergency supplies and other essential services.

Charter flights from Papua New Guinea into Australia will also be suspended, with limited exceptions for medivac, humanitarian and other critical flights.

A Newcrest Mining spokeswoman said it was working closely with the Australian government to better understand the details of the travel suspension and any potential impact on its people either returning to Australia or to PNG.

"As always, the health and safety of our people remains our number one priority and we are committed to assisting any affected employees and keeping our workforce informed of any changes," she said.

 "At this stage, gold production at Newcrest's Lihir operations remains unaffected. 

"We enforce stringent health and safety protocols on site, with strict hygiene, social distancing and other COVID-19 management protocols in place.

"These include comprehensive testing, quarantine and precautionary contact tracing procedures when required.

"We will continue to work with our people, suppliers and local communities to maintain operations and minimise the impact of the coronavirus on our business in PNG."

Earlier this week Ok Tedi Mining said it would suspend its international charter flights from PNG to Cairns until further notice.

The Australian government support package for PNG includes the earliest possible supply of 8000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines from Australia's stock.

It will enable vaccination of the country's essential health workforce, with an initial rollout for the National Capital District. Future priorities will be determined with Papua New Guinea's government.

Prime minister Scott Morrison said the Australian government would also make a formal request to AstraZeneca and European Authorities for 1 million doses of Australia's contracted supplies to be gifted to Papua New Guinea.

"Our early vaccine assistance will be coordinated with the Papua New Guinean government's response, which has included their COVID-19 National Pandemic Response taskforce," he said.

"We will also work with the WHO [World Health Organisation] and UNICEF [United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund] to ensure that it complements PNG's COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.

"We are conscious of the close family and cultural connections of those people living in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. Both governments are determined to protect our respective communities and avoid any cross-border COVID-19 transmission."

The vaccine rollout to the Torres Strait Islands by the Queensland government has already begun.

The Australian government will also work with the Papua New Guinea and Queensland governments to address health security on both sides of the Torres Strait including support for making vaccines available in a timely way in Treaty Villages in the Protected Zone.

"The COVID-19 outbreak in Papua New Guinea carries risks to the Australian people through incoming travellers," Morrison said.

"We are reviewing the adequacy of pre-departure COVID testing and on-arrival quarantine arrangements. We will be working with the Papua New Guinea government over the coming weeks to investigate options for pre departure testing within 24 hours of departure."

As another element of our partnership, Australia is also deploying a forward team of three Australian Medical Assistance Teams health specialists to Port Moresby.

The specialists will work with PNG's health authorities on infection control, triage and emergency management and public health measures.

They will also advise on further Australian assistance and deployment of clinical care teams.