PNG's official death toll from COVID-19 passes 100

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FILE PHOTO: Newly constructed apartment blocks are seen behind the stilt house village called Hanuabada, located in Port Moresby Harbour in Papua New Guinea

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has reported three new COVID-19 related deaths, health officials said on Saturday, bringing the country's total deaths to 102.

The official number of coronavirus infections in the nation of 8.8 million people rose to 10,602, with 52 new cases, the National Control Centre for COVID-19 said in a statement.

Health officials have said previously, however, that the official number of cases likely vastly underestimates the scale of the outbreak as the country's fragile health system is unable to conduct mass testing.

The outbreak has prompted warnings from the World Health Organization as well as from neighbouring Australia of suspected under-reporting of infection rates.

PNG health officials worry that the country's small health system could be overwhelmed by the wave of infections.

As PNG grapples with the rise in infections it also faces delays to its vaccination programme, which relies on supplies from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.

PNG has started a modest vaccination programme using a small number of doses sent by Australia with orders in place for more under the COVAX programme aimed at inoculating countries in need.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)