PRIME Minister James Marape has called on the people to be patient as emergency measures undertaken by the Government “are to protect you and your families”.
He also told Parliament yesterday that the Government would be releasing K45.33 million immediately to ensure the country’s response to Covid-19 remained strong.
The Government will make available another K50 million.
“I understand that the state of emergency (is causing) anxiety and concern,” he said.
“Except in some cases, it is keeping families apart and (people are) unable to travel freely throughout PNG. But these are the measures that we must take. We do so only because our ultimate goal is to protect, prevent deaths and safeguard the national interest.
“We ask Papua New Guineans to cooperate and continue to adhere to the directions of officials as the state of emergency continues.”
He called on the people to be patient and to understand that the measures being taken were for everyone’s benefit. He said the stimulus package was “to mitigate against further risks”.
“We simply cannot allow the virus to take hold,” he said.
“The funds will improve our testing capacity, enhance measures to undertake contact tracing, ensure detailed communication and awareness throughout the country and ensure we have in place containment measures should infections occur.
“This is critical given the capacity of our health system to respond. This means we must identity infections and contain them so that community transmission cannot (happen).”
He said by working together, practising social distancing and limiting contacts, “we ensure that in the event a case of Covid-19 does emerge, that it is quickly identified and contained”.
He said many were worried about the economic consequences of the pandemic.
“That is why I recently announced a range of measures that will be action and put in place to cushion our economy, support local businesses and sustain employment and growth,” he said.
Marape: Emergency could take up to six months
THE State of Emergency will be extended for two months from Sunday, although Prime Minister James Marape warns it may take up to six months.
“While the indications so far remain promising, we cannot yet be assured that we have avoided the worst,” he said.
“And while we seek to maintain the current state of emergency for a further two months, we are realistic that the risk will remain for at least six months given the global nature of this virus. Thus, we must remain vigilant.
“Should the virus be detected, the measures we are putting in place will ensure that we can contain it quickly, and minimise the harm to communities.”
The Government had declared a state of emergency on March 22 to end on Sunday, April 5.
Marape said it was important to ensure that “we mitigate potential harm that the spread of the virus may cause, and to allow government agencies to implement measures to protect all Papua New Guineans.”
“Covid-19 does not discriminate, it has now reached more than 203 countries and territories around the world,” he said.
“Virtually no continent is untouched. The economic and social consequences from the continued spread of the virus cannot be understated.”
Marape said it was not the time to be complacent.
“We are also monitoring our borders. Although it is difficult given the large stretches of land and sea, we are doing everything that is humanly possible with the support, partnership and effective coordination of our development partners to mitigate threats from these key entry points to PNG,” he said.
Opposition leader raises border security concerns
THE Government needs to beef up security at the country’s borders to prevent the incursion of the coronavirus, says Opposition Leader Belden Namah.
He told Parliament that the 30 soldiers sent to Vanimo in West Sepik recently were not enough.
“There is so much illegal smuggling and trade going on there and that is how you will attract the virus to come through our borders,” he said.
He claimed that the Government had been slow in shutting down the borders.
“You do not have to shut down the entire country. You just have to identify the hotspots in the country,” he said.
“Your hotspots should be Western and West Sepik.”
He said there had been no Government presence at the border over the years. East Sepik Governor Allan Bird agreed with him, saying people were exposed to Covid-19 because of the frequent travelling to Indonesia by traders and smugglers.
“You are a Government only if you can protect your borders,” Bird said.
He said the border had “so many holes”.
“The border is 760 km long and there is no fence. (It) is recognised only on paper. There is no security personnel to stop people from crossing.”
Bird said of the 37 people who crossed the border during the lockdown, 31 had been cleared and six yet to complete the 14-day quarantine. He also said 46 PNG soldiers who came through the border were also under quarantine.
Prime Minister James Marape said he would be visiting Vanimo next week.
Namah: Ministers are not scientists to discuss virus
OPPOSITION Leader Belden Namah has told the Government to engage qualified medical people when making important covid-19 announcements, instead of using its ministers who were “trying to become scientists”.
“Some of you are trying to become scientists announcing results,” he said.
“When we are making (such important) statements, we must allow someone who is qualified to make them. If it means you have to do a cabinet reshuffle to appoint a doctor to be a health minister, you do that.”
Namah said the issue was what transmitted the coronavirus.
“We are not scientists to discuss what this virus is all about. We are not doctors to prescribe medication.
“The issue before us is the national state of emergency,” Namah said.
He also cautioned Government about having a clear channel of communication especially among its cabinet ministers.
“One minister comes and says that the (coronavirus) test is positive.
“One comes and says it’s negative. And one minister (then) comes and says we are assessing the results,” he said.
Health and HIV/Aids Minister Jelta Wong objected by raising a point of order.
“The news that was coming out was done in the right way,” Wong said.
“There was a (Covid-19) case where we had a probable and non-probable. That’s why it came out like that. We only have one minister in this country and that’s Prime Minister James Marape.”
Namah replied: “I must have pressed the wrong button.
“The issue is that there is miscommunication. We are hearing from the Police Minister (Bryan Kramer), then we are hearing from the Health Minister. There must be a clear chain of communication to the people.”
Namah and the Opposition MPs supported the motion by Marape to declare a national state of emergency on the coronavirus pandemic.
Tax relief, soft loans to be provided
THE Government will provide temporary tax relief and soft loans for small and medium enterprises, says Prime Minister James Marape.
Marape said this was to help them refinance commercial loans or interest charges.
“The commercial banks have heeded to Government’s request to provide three months’ relief by way of suspending interest payments for their clients or borrowers,” he said.
He thanked the commercial banks for their assistance.
“We are also in discussion with the super funds to provide relief for their contributors, particularly those who have been laid off from their jobs. Under this proposed initiative, they would be able to withdraw between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of their contributions.
“The Government is also exploring policy options to sell non-core assets owned by our state-owned enterprises to increase the revenue to Government to fund the economic stimulus packages.”
He said state companies which would be partially privatised included Air Nuigini, Telikom and PNG Power.
“We will also look at a range of emergency stimulus measures including an infrastructure development programme, and a large-scale housing development in cities (to aid) our long term economic recovery.
“And of course, we will continue to ensure that our indigenous companies are supported and protected in any economic downturn,” he said.