New COVID-19 variant identified in PNG as infections surge

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SYDNEY, March 25 (Xinhua) — Health experts have identified a unique variant of COVID-19 stemming from a surge of cases in Papua New Guinea.

According to a statement released on Thursday by the Australian State of Queensland Health Department, the new variant was the most common detected in travellers from PNG who were assessed in Australia.

“From January 1 to March 25 2021 (06:00 am) Queensland Health has been notified of 64 cases of COVID-19 in people with a history of travel in or transit through Papua New Guinea,” Queensland Health spokesperson said.

“Currently the variant most commonly detected in travellers from Papua New Guinea is the B.1.466.2 lineage, which is not a lineage of concern. This is the new name for the specific B.1 strain mentioned as circulating in PNG.”

The new variant is not believed to be more contagious than previous strains, as was the case with the B117 variant first reported in Britain.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation and as the pandemic is ongoing, we have continued to see new variants emerge, such as the UK and South African variants,” the spokesperson said.

PNG saw a record daily increase of 560 new infections, according to a report by Australian media on Thursday, taking the country’s total to 4,660 — up from 1,365 at the start of the month.

To help stop the spread of the disease from PNG to neighbouring islands, on Wednesday the country’s pandemic response controller David Manning announced an immediate ban on traditional border crossings.

The ban affects local inhabitants who previously were able to travel without a passport or visa between PNG and the neighboring islands.

“The land and sea borders between Papua New Guinea and Australia, Indonesia and Solomon Islands are to remain closed,” a joint PNG agency statement said.

“All cross-border travel between Western Province and Torres Strait, including traditional Treaty Village travel, except as authorized in writing by the Controller is banned.” Enditem

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