TUMBY BAY - Papua New Guinea’s government seems to be responding to the coronavirus pandemic in typical fashion.
After a delayed and then half-hearted attempt to tackle it, the government is throwing its hands in the air and letting the Covid rip.
Ignoring an issue in the hope it will go away has always been a government tactic.
It has often worked well for politicians in the past but this time it might be different.
The lockdown imposed on Port Moresby, one of the epicentres of the contagion, has been lifted and travel to and from the city and into the provinces is not being controlled.
It is more than likely that the contagion has already been raging in the provinces for some time and has simply not been identified, or has been attributed to something like influenza.
The ‘better-late-than-never’ and minimalist response of assistance by the Australian government has been an ineffectual drop in the bucket.
It might be helping slightly in Port Moresby but has left the rest of the country on its own.
Strangely enough this whole chaotic scenario might turn out to make a bit of sense in the long run.
It may be that, even if it had a functioning and well-prepared plan and the resources to carry it out, Papua New Guinea might have ended in the same situation as it will with its lackadaisical approach.
The health services were run down anyway and there’s considerable doubt that even a plan would have helped.
It is becoming apparent that the coronavirus is a sneaky and fast-moving pestilence that is not going away any time soon despite all the world wide efforts to suppress it, eradicate it or build herd immunity to it.
There is a theory that when enough of the population – experts vary that it is around 70% or 80% - have caught the virus and produced an immune response, the population will have reached ‘herd immunity’ and the spread of the virus will be inhibited.
With this virus, though, reaching herd immunity through natural infection will cost millions of lives. As a strategy for dealing with Covid-19 it’s brutal and inhumane.
So herd immunity can only be achieved acceptably through a combination the development of a vaccine and the application of this vaccine to most of the population of the world.
Think of that for a moment.
The vaccine won’t eliminate the virus (which is likely to becomes endemic and be permanently present in the population like colds and influenza) but it will protect us against it and over time build up herd immunity.
The coronavirus is not like measles, for instance, where once you’ve had it – or had the vaccine -you develop an immunity for life.
It’s more like influenza where the vaccines don’t stop us getting the virus, they just enable us to handle it better and increase our chances of not getting very sick or dying. The coronavirus vaccine – once it is developed and if it is developed -will do the same thing.
Sooner or later, no matter where we live, most of us are going to contract Covid-19. Pretty much like we contract a cold or the flu each year.
The trick right now in dealing with Covid-19 is to survive as long as possible – that is avoid coming into contact with the virus - until such time as a vaccine is available.
A vaccine won't stop us catching it but in most cases will give us a vastly better chance of survival when we do.
Vaccines are never 100% proof. Like most medicines their efficacy is limited. Drugs, for instance, only work about 70-80% of the time and are ineffectual on some people.
The percentage of a population that needs be to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity is calculated depending upon how efficiently the virus can reproduce.
Scientists think that the reproductive rate for corona virus is between 4 and 6, which is similar to that of the rubella virus.
The level of vaccination needed to produce herd immunity and eliminate rubella is 85%. Pretty high (especially when you consider that apparently one-third of Americans say they won’t be vaccinated even when a vaccine is available).
Once a vaccine is developed, countries like Australia will probably be able to vaccinate lots of people and reduce mortality rates considerably, just like with flu vaccines.
Developing countries like Papua New Guinea will probably not get enough supplies of the vaccine for many years and will not be able to vaccinate everyone. It is likely that PNG will probably suffer death rates much higher than Australia.
It might also act as a regional breeding ground to keep the virus going for years, especially as it mutates and returns again and again.
Deals are already being done by the big pharmaceutical companies in places like the USA to profit from any vaccines that are developed. Donald Trump’s son-in-law is apparently sewing up deals as I write.
It is highly likely places like PNG will have to rely on aid donors to supply vaccines and mount mass vaccination programs.
It may be that China that comes to its aid. The Chinese are currently well advanced in developing a vaccine.
Papua New Guinea’s best chance of limiting the impact of the virus probably depends upon its government securing supplies of a vaccine as soon as it can.
But, as you might imagine with just about every country wanting the same thing and some countries richer and more powerful than others, this will be a mad race.
PNG needs to pull its head out of the sand fairly soon and start hunting for a good vaccine source or cosying up to a country that has one.