Torres Strait and PNG travel banned

National, Normal

The National, Wednesday, April 27, 2011

ALL travel between the Torres Strait and PNG for traditional purposes is now banned as health authorities keep a close eye on a malaria outbreak on Saibai and Dauan.
The Australian department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT) said the ban would prevent malarial patients from PNG placing further strain on an already fragile health system.
“Please be aware that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, not person to person contact, so the restriction is not in place to prevent the spread of malaria,” the DFAT spokesperson said.
“Rather, it is to prevent further strain on the limited health resources available on the Torres Strait Islands where there are malaria cases.”
Queensland health public health medical officer Dr Steven Donohue said the outbreak could not be declared over.
“The incubation period of the malarial parasite in the Anopheles mosquito is one to two weeks, and can be more than two or three weeks in a person,” Donohue said.
“The last case on Saibai was detected on April 10, so we will be actively looking for new cases for several weeks yet.
“We need to be very vigilant. Queensland health has put extra staff on the ground, with teams going house-to-house looking for people who may be infected.”
Health officers on Saibai were giving people advice about malaria prevention, with seven locally acquired cases of the disease confirmed since March, he said.
Travel restrictions were put in place on March 28, with some exemptions for traditional activities of significance.
But last Friday, a DFAT spokesperson said allowances would no longer be made for activities under the Torres Strait Treaty.
These include hunting, fishing, gatherings for ceremonies or social purposes, and barter and market trade.
“The restriction is in place on the Torres Strait-PNG border for all activities until April 30,” the spokesperson said.
A department of immigration and citizenship spokesperson said its movement monitoring officers would continue to work with island councillors and communities to monitor movement in the region.
“Traditional inhabitants who travel during a suspension will be refused immigration clearance, and their return to Papua New Guinea will be facilitated,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, surface and air surveillance is conducted by border protection command, which conducts joint maritime patrols with PNG authorities.”
Donohue said PNG nationals with malaria had been presenting to health facilities in the Torres Strait on a regular basis for a long time now.
“People should not be quick to blame PNG nationals for the outbreak, he said. – Torres News Online