Over 80% of Australians agree that the government must support Papua New Guinea in its fight against a significant COVID-19 outbreak, while 3 in 4 would like to see the country donate 1 million of 50 million domestically produced vaccines to the neighbouring nation, new polling reveals.
Research firm YouGov, on request from the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), polled 1,025 Australians from April 1 to April 6 to test public support for helping Papua New Guinea. The results also found 8 in 10 Australians either “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that "the COVID-19 outbreak in Papua New Guinea carries risks to the Australian people through incoming travellers."
A similar figure agrees that the discovery of mutating strains in Papua New Guinea would be dangerous for Australians.
ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said the poll reveals the public understands Australia’s moral obligation to the Pacific.
"The polling shows Australia is a generous and fair-minded nation. We will help our mates in tough times and make sacrifices to do so," Purcell said. "This is the human course of action, but it also makes excellent economic sense. The case for aid to Papua New Guinea is a business case for states and territories, like Queensland."
Purcell added: "Tourism operators across the country, especially in Queensland, need confidence their businesses can resume and be sustained. Lowering the COVID-19 caseload in Papua New Guinea is critical to restoring that confidence. After all, only four kilometres separates North Queensland from Papua New Guinea.”
We commissioned @YouGov polling on how Australia can assist #PNG.— ACFID (@ACFID) April 14, 2021
76% of Australians agreed that we should donate 1 million of Australia’s 50 million domestically produced AstraZeneca vaccines to PNG.https://t.co/pNHHAk3eWs@dfat@RichAFerguson
Australia's support to its northerly island neighbour has already been substantial.
At least 10,000 locally manufactured vaccines are being shipped each week to the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, from mid-April. A separate Australian injection of over 8,000 vaccines touched down in the country in March. The Australian government also requested 1 million vaccines initially secured for Australian citizens be redirected to Papua New Guinea.
Australian nurses, doctors and medical equipment also arrived in Papua New Guinea earlier this month.
Since the pandemic began, Australia has likewise pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to aid equitable vaccine distribution throughout the Pacific through programs like COVAX and the Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative.
Brendan Crabb and Mike Toole, the CEO and deputy director of medical research centre the Burnet Institute, said the overwhelming support from Australians should spur politicians to ramp up support.
Without further aid, the experts fear Papua New Guinea could record 1 million COVID-19 cases within weeks.
"The first urgent priority is to provide more assistance to scale up testing across the country. This means both test kits and expert technical support are needed," they wrote in an opinion piece for the Canberra Times. "Second, we need to explore every option to ensure that Papua New Guinea can vaccinate a high proportion of its population. With ramped-up production of AstraZeneca in Australia and decreased demand, we should be able to provide more doses."
Australia should also coordinate an alliance of support for Papua New Guinea with "well-resourced" nations like Japan, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand, they said.