| CoronaCheck | RMIT ABC Fact Check
MELBOURNE - As a wave of coronavirus cases in PNG threatens to spill over into Australia, experts are sounding a warning about online misinformation in the Pacific nation.
Amnesty International has lambasted Australia and New Zealand for what the group's Pacific researcher, Kate Schuetze, called a "woefully inadequate" response to the pandemic.
"Papua New Guinea's health crisis has now reached the level we feared it would a year ago with a surge in cases," Ms Schuetze said.
"A combination of an ailing health system and inadequate living has created a perfect storm for Covid-19 to thrive in the country's overcrowded informal settlements."
She added that misinformation within the PNG community was "rife", and that there had been suggestions that the pandemic was a "government conspiracy".
"This has also been fuelled by the government at times publishing inaccurate information on the number of confirmed cases.
“There is no effective public information campaign by the government to dispel the misinformation."
Meanwhile, the senior gynaecologist at Port Moresby General Hospital, Professor Glen Mola, took to Facebook to vent his frustration at "misinformation, wrong ideas and conspiracy theories" circulating in the Pacific nation.
"Sorry, getting a bit frustrated here with some of my compatriots," Professor Mola wrote.
"Health workers are risking their lives to continue to provide health services, and many people are just spending their time on screens accusing us of unethical practice, criminal and corrupt misuse of government funds and putting forward false, ridiculous, unfounded conspiracy theories for which there is no evidence."
Among the debunked misinformation listed by Professor Mola were suggestions the pandemic was a hoax, that Covid-19 was no worse than a seasonal flu and that home remedies such as lemon tea would protect against the virus.
Australia's High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Jon Philp, also weighed in during a radio interview with the ABC last week.
"There's a lot of denial," Mr Philp said in reference to the current outbreak.
"There is a lot of bad information out on social media [saying] that Covid-19 doesn't exist or that Papua New Guineans are generally immune for one reason or another. There are lots of conspiracy theories."
Mr Philp said a major media and social media campaign was being funded in order to combat the onslaught of misinformation and to show that "there really is such a thing as Covid-19 and people are dying from it".
He added that conquering vaccine hesitancy would be a "big battle".
According to misinformation researchers, some Papuan New Guineans were questioning their government's agenda in rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine, while others saw the Australian government's donation of 8,000 AstraZeneca jabs as a way of using the Pacific nation's citizens as ‘lab rats’.
In response, PNG's prime minister, James Marape, assured citizens he would be the first person to get the vaccine, with justice minister Bryan Kramer saying he would also be vaccinated in order to "dispel the false and misleading statements spread by a handful of people about the vaccine"