Covid-19 positive Papua New Guinea PM returns from Beijing Olympics

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape receiving a Covid-19 vaccination on March 30, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

PORT MORESBY (AFP) - Papua New Guinea's prime minister has returned home from Beijing after a positive Covid-19 diagnosis scuppered plans for face-to-face meetings with Chinese leaders, the government said.

Mr James Marape was in China to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics but "returned a positive test result upon arrival in Beijing last Thursday evening", the government said in a statement on Sunday (Feb 6).

Mr Marape had been expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping but instead held a "virtual meeting" with premier Li Keqiang.

The Papua New Guinea leader's trip to France for this week's One Ocean Summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron has been abandoned, officials said.

Papua New Guinea has officially recorded 37,390 Covid-19 cases in a country of nine million people.

But testing and tracing are minimal, and the real number is believed to be in the millions. Under 4 per cent of the population is vaccinated.

Clinics around the country reported at least 2.6 million people - more than a quarter of the population - presented with flu or pneumonia-like symptoms between March 2020 and September 2021.

Mr Marape's visit to Beijing had been hailed as another deepening of ties, as China vies with the United States for influence in the South Pacific region.

His condition is not known as he was ushered quickly through the airport on Sunday with close contacts prohibited. Mr Marape is now in isolation.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.