Health authorities in Queensland have detected a new variant of COVID-19 from Papua New Guinea, which is in the grips of a dire coronavirus outbreak.
Queensland Health says that it has been notified of 64 cases of COVID-19 in travellers with a history of travel in or transit through Papua New Guinea.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation and as the pandemic is ongoing, we have continued to see new variants emerge, such as the UK and South African variants,” a Queensland Health spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au.
“Currently the variant most commonly detected in travellers from Papua New Guinea is the B.1.466.2 lineage, which is not a lineage of concern.
“This is the new name for the specific B.1 strain mentioned as circulating in PNG.”
Australia weighs extra COVID jabs for PNG
More Australian-made coronavirus vaccines could be sent to PNG, which is just kilometres from Australia’s northernmost islands, and faces a worsening crisis with hundreds of new cases recorded each day despite low testing rates.
While the federal government has delivered an initial 8480 doses of the AstraZeneca jab, more locally produced stocks could be sent to Australia’s northern neighbour.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson said the government was aware of the urgency of the situation.
“The possibility of some of Australia’s domestically produced stocks being able to be used for this purpose is certainly something that is live but yet formally to be decided by government,” she said on Thursday.
Pharmaceutical giant CSL is contracted to manufacture 50 million AstraZeneca doses in Melbourne during the year.
Greens senator Janet Rice told a Senate estimates hearing there was an urgent and dire need for vaccines in Papua New Guinea.
“We’ve got this absolute tragedy unfolding in PNG,” she said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne indicated cabinet would consider the issue of sending more Australian-made vaccines.
“That is something which must be on the table,” she said.
Australia has also pledged to redirect one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine ordered from Europe to PNG.
But there are doubts those vials will ever leave Europe where countries are desperately trying to hang on to domestic stocks.
Adamson said all of Australia’s European missions were advocating for the plight of PNG in an effort to ensure the vaccines are released.
“It’s not one of a long list of things we’re doing, it’s the top priority in Europe,” she said.
DFAT’s Robin Davies said the PNG government was not expecting to be ready to rollout a mass vaccination campaign until mid-May.
“There are genuine limitations,” he said.
Almost 300,000 doses are expected to be delivered to PNG in April through the global COVAX arrangement for poorer nations.
Latest COVID developments
- Victoria’s hotel quarantine program will resume from April 8, with stricter protocols in place to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t leak into the community again.
- Arrivals will be capped at 800 a week, scaling up to 1120 by April 15, subject to the completion of ventilation works at hotels.
- International passenger flights haven’t arrived in Melbourne since February 13 after hotel quarantine workers contracted the UK strain of the virus from travellers at the Holiday Inn near Melbourne Airport.
- Acting Premier James Merlino conceded there would always be a risk of spread but said significant changes to the program had been made following two reviews released on Thursday.
- A review ordered independent ventilation assessments at all quarantine hotels, while testing of returned travellers will also be boosted from two to four times during quarantine.
- General practices have been pointedly warned not to charge patients for consultations before delivering COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Independent MP Rebekha Sharkie has asked Health Minister Greg Hunt to look into the cases of several South Australian pensioners who were out of pocket for pre-vaccine consultations.
- Mr Hunt, who has referred the complaints to the health department, said the vaccine program was based on three principles: free, voluntary and universally available.
- The national vaccination program has reached 408,000 doses, with 49,500 delivered in the past day – well up on the 30,000 given on the first day of the GP-led program on Monday.
- The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revealed more than 36,000 Australians remain stranded overseas, with 4860 considered vulnerable.
- The federal government is offering the arts and entertainment sector an extra $135 million in funding.
- More Australian-made coronavirus vaccines could be sent to Papua New Guinea as the nation grapples with a dire COVID-19 outbreak.
- The NSW government will splash out $51.5 million in a bid to breathe life back into the Sydney CBD and rejuvenate the struggling live music, entertainment and tourism industries.
Australian COVID cases
- Australia reported no new locally acquired case of the coronavirus on Thursday. Nine overseas acquired cases were reported in hotel quarantine: Five in NSW, three in Queensland, and two in WA.
- The national death toll is 909: Victoria 820, NSW 56, Tasmania 13, WA 9, Queensland 6, SA 4, ACT 3 (Two Queensland residents who died in NSW have been included in the official tolls of both states).
Global COVID numbers
- Cases: at least 124,774,967
- Deaths: at least 2,743,475
- Recovered: at least 70,786,663.
Data current as of 1715 AEDT on March 25, taking in federal and state/territory government updates and Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre figures.