• Dauan Island in the Torres Strait. (AAP)Source: AAP
The Australian government is sending aid to Papua New Guinea in light of the rapidly deteriorating coronavirus situation, while neighbouring Torres Strait leaders are making plans to protect their communities.
Rachael Hocking

18 Mar 2021 - 2:23 PM  UPDATED 18 Mar 2021 - 3:16 PM

Torres Strait communities are working hard to share information and keep each other safe, as their close neighbour Papua New Guinea battles a growing COVID-19 crisis.

The country (PNG) is identifying around 100 new cases a day.

It comes amid a fast-tracked vaccination roll-out across the Island region, with Sabai, Boigu and Dauan - all just short dingy rides to PNG - being prioritised.

Yesterday, Australia announced it will send 8,000 AstraZeneca jabs to PNG to vaccinate its frontline healthcare workers, as well as essential personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks and hand sanitiser.

At midnight last night, flights from Port Moresby to Brisbane were also reduced by one-quarter, while flights between PNG and Cairns have been suspended.

While there have been international concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine, Mayor of the Torres Shire Council Vonda Malone told NITV News there had been no advice against it from health authorities on the ground.

She said discussions with the Australian Government regarding efforts to vaccinate people on the PNG side of the border are underway, and that their focus was on spreading accurate, culturally appropriate information.

"The short timeframe did mean that we had to really get together as leaders across our region," she said.

"While there is genuine concerns from community members, and rightly so with all that information now available at people's fingertips, we are encouraging members of the community to go to reliable sources, and we have provided links within our messaging."

She said the flow of information regarding COVID-19 had tapered since the height of the pandemic in 2020 and that more work needed to be done to reach vulnerable communities. 

On Wednesday, the Cairns Post reported that Mayor Phillemon Mosby of the Torres Strait Island Regional Council had expressed concern about COVID screening processes on the PNG side of the border, and how accessible information was to Island communities.

He encouraged the community to source information from official channels, rather than relying on social media. 

“I think the biggest challenge is building confidence in the vaccine; there is a lack of information, we need to give people time to process it,” Cr Mosby said.

“There has been a lot of planning with Queensland Health to ensure information is available in Creole; English is a fourth or fifth language for many here.”

"We know it will take some time for the globalisation of the vaccine and we don’t want suggestions to open the borders early.

“We need to be vigilant.”

Cr Malone said she sympathised with community concerns, but also encouraged community to seek information from reliable sources such as the Queensland Health website, local medical services and leaders in the community. 

Earlier in the week, Cr Mosby welcomed Queensland's move to prioritise vaccinations in the Torres Strait and is working alongside Cr Malone on the rollout. 

Many people living in the Torres Strait have strong links to PNG through inter-marriage and cultural ties. 

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