The Western Highlands Provincial COVID-19 Co-ordination Committee held its eighth weekly meeting on 12th May 2020 to elaborate further on its preparations for managing the spread of the virus in the province.
The meeting, chaired by the Acting Provincial Administrator, Mr Joseph Neng and held at the Mt Hagen Hospital Board Room, discussed a number of important issues.
1) Members of Parliament from the Western Highlands Province had made a total commitment of K1.5 million about two weeks ago to assist the committee with its preparations but this money has not been received yet.
Mr Neng said while expressing his disappointment that he had written to the respective District Development Authority CEOs to ensure the funds were released but there has been no positive feedback from them. Once received the funds will go into a Provincial trust account.
2) The upgrading of Mt Hagen Market to be COVID-19 compliant before it can be re-opened will cost approximately K 440,000 but the owner, Mt Hagen Rural Local Level Government does not have this money to carry out the job.
The market’s male and female toilets require major repairs and new handwashing basins need to be installed as well before it is declared fit and healthy for re-opening. The sewerage system requires upgrade and water storage tanks and pipes also require replacement.
From health point of view, there must be proper waste management in place and soap and tubs provided for handwashing and benches washed down with sanitisers after market closes each day. A market sub-committee has been formed and will meet today to discuss the way forward and re-prioritise the plan and costs.
Water supply has already been restored which is a good thing. Social distancing is essential and will be achieved with support of the market police. Overcrowding must be managed. Considerable thought is being given to separating wholesale and retail marketing.
3) The PA, PPC and WHPHA CEO have signed a letter to be delivered to shop owners in the city to take heed of the things they must do to protect themselves, their employees and their patrons from catching or spreading the virus. Community awareness messages are falling on deaf ears so the PHA has decided to provide a starter pack to incentivise commercial premises to participate in being prepared.
4) Construction of the 2nd level quarantine unit (tent) donated by Tininga has been completed by Oilmin staff to accommodate negative patients coming out of the first quarantine unit with positive patients. This is to keep them safe until discharge.
PHA has written a letter to Health Minister expressing concern at advice given to Education for schools to make it mandatory for all students to wear face masks continuously every day when attending classes, saying it was dangerous.
It has asked the Minister to revise the NDoH’s advice to schools that students and teachers must wear masks each day as it can be dangerous if masks are not changed regularly and handled properly. Social distancing, regular hand washing are what will keep students and teachers safe as well as self-isolation if unwell. Temperatures should be checked.
5) People smuggling in betel nut is still a concern for police who are doing everything they can to stop such activity. Only last week a container truck loaded with cement bags also carried about 25 – 30 bags of betel nut and was preparing to unload the betel nut bags near the Kaiwe market when police caught them and confiscated the betel nut bags and smashed them on the road with a roller machine. The driver of the truck escaped but the owner who came with a land cruiser vehicle to pick up the nuts was arrested and his vehicle impounded.
Another Twin steer truck with a container loaded with 500 bags of betel nut left Madang on Monday and was heading for Mt Hagen when it met its fate at Ramu. Mt Hagen police were tipped off and had set up a road block to seize the bags when they were told the truck had capsized at Ramu and all its contents emptied by local villagers.
6) National Court has issued instructions to all judges, magistrates and court house staff to wear masks during court hearings. People entering court hearings must also wear masks and the number of people attending must not be more than 5.
It is proposed that court fines imposed on offenders are to be kept and used by police to carry out their operations while the SOE is still in force. So far those people arrested have all pleaded guilty and paid their fines.
7) Schools in the WHP are understanding the importance of social distancing and handwashing with soap regularly and have taken a number of measures to prevent the virus from spreading among teachers and students.
Some high schools and primary schools have introduced shift classes, others have divided individual classes into 2 to enable less number of students to attend class every second day while nearly all of them have been advised to teach only core subjects and leave out the non-assessable subjects in order to make up for lost time.
Education Manager, Simon Sam agrees that wearing face masks in class all day is not healthy for students and further agrees with the WHPHA that this can attract other diseases and wants to see it worn only by those with cough and flu. He wants to encourage all schools to set up more hand wash basins and encourage handwashing with soap for 20 seconds and social distancing.
He will also advise teachers to discourage students from playing games and for teachers to prepare lessons for children with health issues to take home and study.
Work is also being done on providing a source of thermometers that schools can buy.
The Education Division has submitted a budget of over K5 million to fund its programs to fight against COVID-19 as part of the WHP COVID Business Plan which now exceeds K14m for three months.