Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare today (02 March) announced a step-up of surveillance activities at the Western Border with PNG following the recent hike in positive covid-19 cases in neighboring Bougainville.
Sogavare had asked the oversight committee and all border agencies to further step up surveillance activities at the border to stop illegal crossing into border communities.
The Shortland Islands of the Western Province, Malaita Outer Islands and the Northwest part of Choiseul have already been declared Emergency Zones.
“We will increase our focus and attention to identify gaps, and urgently mobilize additional personnel and logistical support to ensure we step up our surveillance activities immediately along the western border,” he said.
As part of the step up, the joint Command and Control Centre at Nila in the Shortlands will be strengthened to coordinate activities at the border including a boost in existing assets including the police posts at Kulitanai, Harapa, Kariki, Supizae, and Taro.
Health facilities at the border have been activated on high alert and Sogavare had asked a more dedicated health team to be deployed to the border in a manner similar to the police deployment.
This will ensure health personnel carry out joint outreach missions together with the police and immigration personnel.
Bougainville, which is 15 minutes by boat from the Solomon Islands side of the border currently, recorded 26 active cases, with the number expected to increase as authorities began contact tracing of suspects.
There are a total of 137 quarantine beds in western province and 8 quarantine beds at Supizae in Choiseul province with a minimal isolation capacity at Nila and at Taro hospital.
Sogavare said the government is looking to support joint procurement of additional fast crafts including 2 water ambulances and joint fuel depots to support the rapidly growing operations along the western border.
Progress is also made with the construction of a large Barrack unit and Mess for police officers at Kulitanai to support longer-term deployment of police officers to the border zone.
“We are exploring the quickest ways to erect two large blocks to increase isolation capacity at the Nila clinic and Taro hospital and we will be working with Our Telekom to prioritise improvement on telecommunication coverage for the border area,” Sogavare said.
The increased risk of COVID-19 entering through the western border highlights the importance of considering citizens living along the western border in the ‘COVID-19 vaccination roll-out plan’ the government is currently working on.
Sogavare said the government would continue to invest resources to enhance the security of the country and people from COVID-19.
“Protecting our country and our people from COVID-19 is one of the two key objectives of my government. In this regard strengthening the capabilities along the western border is the immediate priority of my government,” Sogavare said.