Scott Morrison has demanded the European Union immediately release one million Covid-19 vaccines that Australia has bought so he can donate them to Papua New Guinea which is suffering a surge in cases.
European Union nations including Italy have recently blocked AstraZeneca vaccines – which are made in Belgium – from leaving the continent as they struggle to secure enough doses for their own populations.
Australia, which has not had a single Covid death this year, has struggled to secure some 3.8million contracted doses but has largely avoided complaining until now.
A hearse carrying the coffin of Papua New Guines’s first prime minister Michael Somare during his funeral ceremony on March 11. The country is struggling with a surge in cases
Scott Morrison also demanded the European Union release one million vaccines that Australia has bought
On Wednesday Mr Morrison demanded Europe release one million doses directly to northern neighbour Papua New Guinea as cases surge in the developing nation.
‘With the support of the PNG government we’re making a formal request to AstraZeneca and the European authorities to access one million doses of our contracted supplies of AstraZeneca not for Australia, but for PNG, a developing country in desperate need of these vaccines,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘We’ve contracted them. We’ve paid for them and we want to see those vaccines come here so we can support our nearest neighbour, PNG, to deal with their urgent needs in our region.’
Amid fears three quarters of Papua New Guineans could be infected, Mr Morrison will immediately hand over 8,000 vaccines to jab frontline health workers, as well as one million surgical masks, 100,000 gowns, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves, 100,000 bottles of sanitiser, 20,000 face shields and 200 non-invasive ventilators.
Mr Morrison said giving vaccines to the country was the right thing to do and believed Australians would agree.
‘I think Australians understand that that is one of our responsibilities and as an advanced nation that has had such incredible success in managing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, I think they would be generous in spirit,’ he said.
‘They’re our family. They’re our friends. They’re our neighbours. They’re our partners. They have always stood with us and we will always stand with them.’
Mr Morrison demanded co-operation from the EU in sending the vaccines Down Under, adding: ‘I expect and would hope to get the cooperation out of Europe for this.
‘We’ve all said that we need to get vaccines where they’re needed.
‘This is not Australia seeking to do this for our own direct benefit, although we’ve contracted them and you would expect them to be supplied.’
French President Emmanual Macron has previously urged wealthy nations to donate vaccines to poorer countries and Mr Morrison is now holding his feet to the fire.
‘Those vaccines and their deployment would therefore, I think, be following through on the very public statements that have been made in the European Union about their commitment to ensure there is no vaccine protectionism and that vaccines do go to those most in need and that’s why we’re putting that forward,’ he said.
Papua New Guinea is struggling with a Covid-19 outbkreak. Pictured: Port Moresby Harbour
Papua New Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world and has struggled to stand up an effective testing and tracing system.
About half of women going to hospital to give birth have are testing positive for the disease.
‘The capacity to manage Covid-19 in a developing country is starkly different to what it is in an advanced country like Australia,’ Mr Morrison said.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape fears said the country has suffered a huge explosion of cases in recent days.
‘The number is quite staggering,’ Mr Marape told reporters in Port Moresby.
‘If we don’t do a corrective response to this, our health system will be clogged and we won’t be able to sustain it.’
From Saturday all passenger flights from PNG into Cairns will be suspended for two weeks, with charter flights also halted except for medevac and other critical routes.
Australia’s support for Papua New Guinea
* 8000 doses from Australian vaccine stocks for frontline health workers will be sent to PNG next week.
* The government will make a formal request to AstraZeneca to access one million doses for PNG (paid for by Australia).
* Masks, gowns, goggles, gloves, sanitiser, face shields and ventilators will be sent to PNG.
* An AUSMAT team to travel to PNG next week.
* Australia will seek Quad partners’ (India, Japan and US) assistance for the vaccine rollout.
* Western Province vaccine and medical supplies will be rolled out in treaty villages, where there is movement between Torres Strait islands. Vaccinations will be undertaken by the Queensland government.
* Passenger flights from PNG to Cairns are suspended for two weeks, and passenger caps will be cut for flights into Brisbane.
* Outbound flights from Australia to PNG are suspended, apart from travel for essential and critical workers.
* Air freight services will continue.