Bougainville is heading to the polls today amid its first case of the COVID-19. This is the 4th General Election of Papua New Guinea’s autonomous region, since attaining autonomy arrangements in 2001.

While this election is critically important in the regions push for independence from Papua New Guinea, it comes at a time when there is much distress brought on by the global killer virus.

Bougainville reported its first case of the COVID-19 from a 22-year old male student who had traveled in from Port Moresby on July 29.

Test results returned last Friday (August 7th), more than a week later, from swabs taken in Buka tested the young man positive, sending health and COVID-19 response teams to look for him in Arawa in Central Bougainville to isolate and quarantine him.

Although he has been identified, relatives of the young man had initially resisted health teams making contact with him in Arawa Town.

Bougainville’s Health Secretary, Clement Totavun, said that issue was resolved on Monday, and the health team was allowed to talk to the patient and collected further swab from him.

“We’ve also started the process of isolating him at his family home, while we are continuing contact tracing with all the other 54 passengers he had travelled with on the flight into Buka and others he may have come in contact with.”

Mr Totavun said the case is a Port Moresby case since the young man was only given a medical clearance certificate to travel and was never tested until he reached Buka.

“We have a Standard Operating Procedure at our airport that any passengers that travel in should be tested and that is where we picked up the case.

“Our health teams are moving around in Central Bougainville to make contact tracing and collect more samples that will be sent away for testing, either at the Port Moresby or Goroka Institute of Medical Research, or overseas in Singapore or Melbourne in Australia.

“We want to encourage people to come in for testing and we also want to increase our contact tracing and testing to find out if we have a community or local transmission in the region.”

The increased contact tracing and testing will ensure victims are attended to early. Bougainville already has two GeneXpert machines, one in Buka and another in Arawa, that can run tests for the COVID-19, but Secretary Totavun said they are waiting for trainers from Port Moresby this week, who will train local health technicians on how to use the machines before they can be employed in COVID-19 testing.

“We want to strengthen the testing operation in Buka first, because that is where we already have an equipped test site or laboratory in place, and there’ll be trained technicians soon after we get help from trainers from Port Moresby, along with cartridges for the GeneXpert machine. After Buka we can then expand testing across the region.

“We are also encouraging the use of masks in public crowded places because that is a tool that can protect us against transmission of the COVID-19.

“There are not enough supplies of the Personal Protective Equipment (masks) in Bougainville. We were given a small number from the Department of Health in Port Moresby so we’re limited that to only frontline health and security workers dealing with the COVID-19. When we get more supplies we will share it with other key government agencies involved in the situation.

“But the public are encouraged to sew their own if they can, or buy from those that can sew and wear them whenever they are out in public crowded places."

Mr Totavun said people in Bougainville should remain calm because authorities are on top of the situation and are stepping up their efforts in contact tracing and increasing tests to determine the status of the region if there is community transmission.

“There should not be panic. People must remain calm because our first case is asymptomatic, meaning the patient has not shown any signs of the COVID-19.

“People should also refrain from spreading rumours and be skeptical because COVID-19 is real.

“Our awareness is and still remains that people must always wash their hands do not touch their face with their hands, cough into your elbows, keep your distance from others and stay at home if you have nothing to do in public."


Solomon Times Online is partnering with The Bougainvillean to bring you up to date news from Bougainville - focusing on efforts to contain Covid-19, what is being done at the border with the Solomon Islands and the elections that has started today.


Kelvin Kaspar is a former Chief Sub Editor with the National Broadcasting Corporation of PNG in Port Moresby, but is now the Editor of The Bougainvillean – an upcoming Monday weekly newspaper for Bougainville.