Papua New Guinea (PNG) banned flights from India indefinitely on Tuesday and accused the South Asian country’s diplomats of “deception” over apparent breaches to Covid-19 travel rules.
The Melanesian nation’s top COVID-19 official said in an act of deliberate “deception,” India’s High Commission helped dozens of unauthorized travelers — some COVID-positive — to arrive in PNG.
According to officials, a repatriation charter flight from India arrived in PNG via Indonesia early on Tuesday with 111 people on board, 30 more than the original number approved.
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The flight had been the subject of intense negotiations between officials in both countries. PNG rejected it four times over virus fears before an agreement was reached to allow 81 passengers to enter.
Police Commissioner David Manning said, “India’s High Commission in Port Moresby deliberately participated in the deception” to bring more than that number in.
Papua New Guinea bans flights from India after accusing Indian officials of collusion in Covid test ‘deception’ https://t.co/xZQACj9vcD
— The Online Citizen Asia (@theon9citizen) August 26, 2021
“India must respect Papua New Guinea as a sovereign nation, and not participate in actions involving unscrupulous people to violate our laws and undermine public health and safety measures,” PNG’s police commissioner said in a statement.
Indian government officials in Port Moresby and New Delhi did not immediately comment on the allegations.
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Airline operators CapaJet and Garuda Indonesia were also banned from entering PNG airspace “until further notice,” he added. The travelers were Papua New Guinean, Indian, and Indonesian nationals, with four testings positive for Covid-19.
PNG has introduced rigid travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the Delta variant — which originated in India — and protect its chronically strained public health system.
Officials and humanitarian experts have warned that the country’s hospitals were already struggling with endemic disease, underfunding, and an acute shortage of doctors before the pandemic hit.
PNG has recorded around 18,000 Covid-19 cases. Hospitals have already been overwhelmed, and makeshift facilities had to be created with foreign help.