The border between the Western province and Bougainville is the major flash point for COVID-19 entry into the country.
The common border is vast, with various entry points through thick mangroves and passage ways that could be used to evade enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. This is the blunt assessment made by a former border enforcement officer.
He says despite the additional resources poured into the border, there are still plenty of gaps. He says a lot now depends on people living at the border area, in terms of adhering to the ban on border crossing and whether the majority of the population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
There are currently 32,279 recorded cases of COVID-19 in PNG, with 415 deaths registered. Bougainville’s pandemic controller, Clement Totavun, says that as of Tuesday this week, nine people had died on Bougainville from COVID-19.
Buka General Hospital chief executive Dr Tommy Wotsia told Radio New Zealand that "about two thirds [of cases] are locally transmitted, so it means the virus is moving and spreading in our communities."
The need to prevent unauthorised entry into Solomon Islands at the western border is critical in our fight against COVID-19 now more than ever. Of equal importance is the need to be proactive in boosting community level immunity at the western border.
To date, vaccination rates at the border has been low. Making vaccination mandatory for border communities must be explored, and since the threat is imminent it is reasonably justifiable.