“It’s a situation that’s ripe for transmission,” he told the ABC.
Dr Francis said the national laboratory where Timor-Leste conducts COVID-19 tests had been flooded on the weekend, but workers at the facility had put in an “enormous” effort and successfully saved testing equipment and reagents by moving them above the waters.
“The equipment is OK and remarkably yesterday they managed to do some COVID testing although it was limited in terms of using just one machine,” he said.
“We are working hard today alongside health colleagues to get things up and running again.
“But it’s hard for everyone — I am driving through Dili right now, people are sweeping mud out of houses and desperately trying to recover.”
Alex Tilman, a Development Coordination Officer with the UN, said people were already suffering from the economic impact from the COVID-19 lockdown, and this disaster had added another level of pain.
“We are facing a twin crisis, I would say: health crisis as well as humanitarian crisis,” he said.
“Some of the areas affected by the flood, is the areas where the COVID outbreak has been worst in Dili, where the disease has been affecting more people than others.”
There were also fears the floods would prevent a plane carrying the Timor-Leste’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccines — sourced by the COVAX facility for developing nations — from landing.
But two local sources told the ABC on Monday the plane had arrived on schedule.
Shadow Minister for the Pacific, Pat Conroy, told the ABC there was a “clear need for an emergency response” in Timor-Leste to help with the recovery.
“The (Australian) government needs to respond to any requests for assistance from Timor-Leste,” he said.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Timor-Leste that we can never fully repay.”
While skies had cleared in Dili on Monday, more rain has been forecast throughout the week.
Peter Goodfellow, country director for CARE International, said this forecast had many people on edge.
“The weather system that brought this is actually moving away to the south-west now, however there has been rain [Monday]. Nothing like at the level we saw at the weekend but naturally people are still nervous,” he said.
“The amount of time that it’s going to take for this to be addressed is going to be quite significant so people will be watching closely for rain over the next few days.”
And beyond the threat of COVID-19, experts and officials remain worried thousands of people will remain at risk from rampant waterborne diseases.
There are also concerns many people will struggle to access food and clean water.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australia’s “thoughts and condolences” were with Timor-Leste.
“Australia and NGO partners on the ground to whom we provide funding have given support to evacuation centres. We are supporting access to clean water for the centres through our existing development program,” a spokesman said in a statement.
“Our Defence Cooperation Program has provided emergency backup power for the Timor-Leste Integrated COVID Crisis Centre.”
“We stand ready to assist the government and people of Timor-Leste in response to further requests for assistance.”