Papua New Guinea bans flights from India after accusing it of Covid test ‘deception’

Papua New Guinea has banned all repatriation flights from India, after accusing the country’s high commission of a deliberate “deception” that resulted in passengers infected with Covid-19 arriving in the country.

“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, David Manning, said in a statement.

“As a consequence of this deliberate show of disrespect against the people and government of Papua New Guinea, there is now an indefinite ban on any further repatriation flights from India. Further, CapaJet and Garuda Indonesia are now prevented from entering Papua New Guinea airspace until further notice.”

Papua New Guinea’s borders are closed to most travellers due to the pandemic. Health authorities there fear the country could be ripe for a major Delta outbreak, due to low testing rates, a high percentage of positive tests and low vaccination rates.

Manning’s statement came after a Garuda Indonesia flight originating in India arrived in Port Moresby last Thursday with 81 people onboard, twice as many as had been agreed to.

Manning said the repatriation flight had previously been rejected four times and had only received permission after it was agreed that passengers would be capped at 42 and that all of those onboard would take a Covid-19 PCR test two days prior to departure.

“The Indian government allowed some passengers to board the aircraft without undertaking a Covid-19 test and returning a negative result,” Manning said. “This failure has meant that the flight carried four individuals into Papua New Guinea who are infected with Covid-19.

“We are very fortunate that each of these four people appeared to no longer be infectious, and all other passengers have been tested and returned negative results.”

The Indonesian ambassador would also be asked to “explain his government’s involvement in the scandal”, Manning’s statement said. Garuda Indonesia is a state-owned airline.

The Indonesian embassy and the Indian high commission did not respond to requests for comment.