Western Highlands Provincial Covid-19 Committee Meeting

The latest meeting of the Western Highlands Provincial COVID-19 Co-ordination Committee was held at its usual venue, the WHPHA Board Room at Mt Hagen Hospital on Tuesday, 21st July 2020 and discussed key issues that required urgent attention.


  1. WHPHA CEO, David Vorst chaired the meeting in the absence of the Chairman and Provincial Administrator, Mr Joseph Neng who was away on business in Port Moresby. Again, discussions on the upgrading and re-opening of Mt Hagen Market took centre stage.


Minor repair works and other small jobs that need to be done to have the market ready for re-opening have started. Three contractors have been identified to carry out the major jobs but as it involves large amounts of public funds, the process of selecting the desired contractor needs to go through the public tender process.


However, as the repair works need to be fast tracked to have the market re-opened as soon as possible, it was decided that a Certificate of Inexpediency (COI) be used to draw the market funds in small amounts of up to K50,000 to buy much needed materials quickly to get the jobs done fast.


The market project has been allocated a total of K140,000 from Covid-19 funds including donations but due to strict financial guidelines for such funds to be drawn, access to these funds is being delayed.


The funds have been deposited into a Treasury-opened trust account at Waigani and this is where the delay is. Mr Neng and the Provincial Finance Manager met with those responsible at Treasury Department last week to sort out this issue and it is anticipated that the funds would be available for use by next week.


PLANPAC, the consulting firm engaged by DFAT to assess, plan and implement the market redevelopment program estimates that all jobs would be completed by the end of August for the market to re-open. However, the committee felt this was a long delay and decided that what needs to be done quickly such as fixing the toilets and installing hand wash basins and doing line markings for social distancing etc. should be done without delay and have the market re-opened soon.


The market management reported that painting of floors for social distancing and installation of hand wash basins at the four gates have been completed and once the toilets are fixed, the market should re-open. The sewerage system in the market has been fixed and work on the toilets would cost less than K50,000.


The committee decided that instead of waiting for the major redevelopment to begin, the COI should be used to draw small amounts to buy urgently needed materials and get the toilets fixed quickly or failing that, materials be purchased on credit from suppliers such as Tininga and pay them later when the funds become available. Tininga have already supplied five Tuffa tanks to the market on credit and have agreed to do the same for other materials as long as a letter or email from the Chairman’s office authorising this arrangement is in place.


Environmental Health Officers from the WHPHA are to work with the market management to ensure everything done is in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines so that once all repairs are completed, the market can be re-opened without waiting for the major repairs to be completed.


  1. The sub-committee tasked with the responsibility of putting together a plan for the future management of other diseases and disasters in the province after the COVID-19 pandemic slows down has completed a draft plan.


According to a member of the sub-committee, Steven Moka, Benson Safi who heads this committee was to do a power point presentation at this meeting but was not available and the meeting agreed that this be presented at the next meeting next Tuesday, 28th July 2020.


  1. The gathering of PNG Bible Church pastors from around the country at Tambul Baibel Skul campus from Monday 13th – Thursday 16th July 2020 was a matter of concern for the committee. This was particularly so because more than 300 pastors had gathered under mixed circumstances with regards to approval from the Covid-19 National Co-ordination Centre (NCC).


Acting chairman, David Vorst told the meeting that WHPHA was caught by surprise as approval for that meeting was a last minute decision by the Deputy Controller of the State of Emergency, Dr Paison Dakulala and he was informed of it at 4pm on the Friday before the meeting and had to do last minute arrangements to send health teams up there with test kits to screen and test the pastors.


Controller David Manning learnt of the decision later and revoked the approval but it was too late as the pastors had organised their travels well in advance and were in Tambul at the weekend.


Our health team led by acting Director of Population Health, Fredah Pyanyo had been in Tambul since Monday and began screening all pastors including others who were on the campus. A total of 27 tests had been conducted including all those that travelled in from the hotspot provinces of Western, West Sepik and NCD and all the tests had been negative.


With the rise in the number of positive cases now being discovered in the NCD, the committee has made a decision to write to the Controller to close down all provincial borders, especially all travels out of Port Moresby.


Our health team at Kagamuga airport is screening more than 7,000 passengers every week with nearly all of them travelling in from Port Moresby and this is a worrying concern for Western Highlands because people from other neighbouring highlands provinces are using Kagamuga as their central point of arrival and departure.


Mt Hagen Hospital Manager, Jane Holden who has been at the forefront of the preparations for the fight against Covid-19 in the province will take several weeks leave at the end of this week but she has trained enough staff who are capable and confident of handling any situation.


  1. Finally, the meeting expressed concern that some key members of the committee including the Provincial Police Commander, City Authority CEO and his Mayor, Provincial Administrator and others were not present to contribute ideas as to how we could manage the spread of the virus in the province.


It said the increase in the number of positive cases in NCD was a serious cause for concern and everyone should take ownership of the fight against this world-wide pandemic.


There being no other business, the meeting closed at 11am. The next meeting will be held at 10am next Tuesday, 28th July 2020 at the same venue.