COVID concerns as PNG mourns Somare

AAP
Public mourning for former PNG PM Michael Somare has raised concerns over the spread of coronavirus.
Camera IconPublic mourning for former PNG PM Michael Somare has raised concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

The Papua New Guinea government is working with the World Health Organisation to curb the spread of coronavirus during public mourning for the nation's first prime minister Michael Somare.

The "Grand Chief" died of pancreatic cancer in Port Moresby on Friday aged 84, with the government declaring two weeks of mourning for the man known as "the father of the nation".

The mourning across the country includes church services and "haus krai" (house of crying) events where social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus could prove difficult to maintain.

PNG has recorded a recent rise in coronavirus cases, with 449 reported last month alone, bringing the national total to 1365, including 14 deaths, The National newspaper reports.

WHO's representative in PNG, Luo Dapeng, said a WHO team was working with PNG's Department of Health to encourage "safe mourning" to limit transmission of COVID-19.

"It is fitting to mourn the loss of the Grand Chief, Sir Michael and it is important to do so safely," he told The National.

"To protect themselves and others, it is important for mourners to remember physical distancing, wear a mask, avoid crowds, clean their hands, stay home if they are unwell, and cough into a bent elbow or tissue."

Dapeng commended the national organising committee for putting in place measures such as physical distancing for the haus krai inside the Sir John Guise Indoor Stadium in Port Moresby.

All PNG's provinces have been allocated days to observe the haus krai at the stadium.

Parliament will have a special sitting on Thursday, March 11, when Somare's body will lie in state at Parliament House.

The next day has been declared a public holiday when a state funeral service will be held at the Sir Herbert Murray Stadium.

Somare's body will then be flown to his home province on a chartered flight.

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