PORT MORESBY - For month after month this year, Papua New Guinea was said to have had eight cases of Covid-19, all of which had been resolved satisfactorily.
As a lifetime skeptic, I never believed the blithe certainty of that fixed in concrete statistic.
Yesterday, health authorities announced a new Covid-19 tally of 30 cases, most linked to an outbreak at Port Moresby hospital.
For many months now, Australia has been providing PNG with testing kits and protective gear and the PNG Defence Force has been tramping along the border with Indonesia to turn back refugees.
Indonesia officially records that it has 92,000 Covid-19 cases and 4,500 deaths.
It’s speculated you could multiply these figures by three and get closer to the mark.
And you could probably multiply PNG’s numbers by 10 and also be on target.
Not only is the health system a basket case but its medical statistics are pure guesswork.
But not everyone’s a believer.
A story in Facebook today had high profile commentator Martyn Namorong claiming Covid-19 is a hoax.
However the flamboyant writer hedged his bets by also sporting a very smart mask, an item of equipment recently endorsed by US president Trump.
The PNG government is expected to tighten restrictions today by placing a ban on non-essential movement, mandating the use of face-masks and limiting group gatherings to 10 people.
Nobody I know believes this will work.
In fact it’s likely that whatever the number of Covid-19 victims in PNG few have been diagnosed as such.
It’s also likely that – given the close-knit nature of PNG society – the community spread of the disease will already be substantial.
Health authorities have warned that PNG's limited health infrastructure may be ready to buckle.
It’s a fair guess it has already buckled and that Papua New Guineans are dealing with the deaths from this mysterious illness in the stoic and pragmatic way they deal with their harsh lives in general.
David Manning, PNG's police commander and pandemic controller, said in a media release that “the rise to 30 was of grave concern".
And prime minister James Marape sounded like he’s given up the fight, having warned that the country's health system would not "have the capacity to deal with a widespread outbreak".
All the indicators are that that moment has already arrived. And that the PNG statistic is way more than the 30 notified in Port Moresby.