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Covid PNG: Unprepared & understated

Public controversialist Martyn Namorong is no stranger to masks. This pic dates from 2017 and, with nose fully exposed, would be useless in fighting off Covid-19


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.


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Michael Dom

Endowed then superior, and when endowed superior.

Differences of degree or metrics.

Lindsay F Bond

Is that "intellectually superior" or intellectually endowed, Michael?

My Australiaism respects that this island has wombats which seem fully immersed in the soil of earthly existence and have the capability to engage and endure, apparently not yet needing calibration of their collective neuronal capacity.

Michael Dom

It is easy to denigrate the existence of religious belief when surrounded by the comforts afforded by science and technology.

On an individual basis this is defensible under the rights and freedoms promulgated through a number of fundamentally good religious teachings for which "there remain billions of humans utterly convinced of the existence and power of supernatural beings, the Christian god being merely one of them".

Science may have lifted human civilization out of mysticism but it does not offer a higher sense of being.

Of course our molecules live forever, isn't that amazing, or do we take that for granted too?

It is being that matters most when scientifically certain death knocks on out door in one of its many guises, Covid-19 "being merely one of them".

It's the why of existence, the desire for being which religion helps us to resolve.

Technology sustains or destroys life but it does not initiate life.

Science claims no value other than itself.

The religious are right to reject this, even if it is a source of frustration to the intellectually superior.

That's part of being human: we are by nature contradictory.

Intelligence is no substitute for character.

Science does not teach us character.

Science offers only facts.

A wise man interpreted love as "the desire for being to flourish".

Science and technology have no such desire for any being to flourish.

Only our humanity, with all our contradictions, our failed intellectual capacity and our poorly applied mysticism, has the potential to change the nature of our experience: that's an almost godlike ability.

As for Covid-19, I'll leave that to more scientifically savvy people to argue the case, which should be more about caution and less about belief.

Bernard Corden

Written before Covid-19 and a fascinating read:

William Dunlop

Hoax? Ad infinitum.

Chris Overland

I struggle to understand why Martyn, who seems a pretty smart guy, would be saying that C19 is a hoax. I'll do him the courtesy of assuming he was being ironic.

The notion that C19 is a hoax appears to originate, as do so many truly batshit crazy ideas, in the fermentation tank of both genius and idiocy that is the United States.

The history of the USA is full of examples of truly mad ideas that somehow gain currency despite all evidence to the contrary.

Most of the world's modern Christian cults like Scientology, Mormonism, the Branch Davidian and many other lesser known sects were spawned in the USA.

The USA has always been a hotbed of radicalism in religion and other areas so I guess it is no surprise that this is the case.

Of late, the anti-vaccination movement has gained a following in the USA and elsewhere and so the idea that C19 is a hoax is no great leap for those who harbour anti-scientific and anti-intellectual sentiments.

It seems very strange to me that even though it is science and technology that has created the modern world, there remain billions of humans utterly convinced of the existence and power of supernatural beings, the Christian god being merely one of them.

There is not a shred of credible evidence that there is a supernatural world unless you count the truly bizarre world of quantum physics, the principles of which have allowed us to create the non-corporeal cyber world in which far too many of us spend far too much time these days.

The cyber world has enabled the rapid promulgation of truly stupid ideas, the notion that C19 is a hoax being one of them.

Tell that the families and friends of those who have died or the doctors and nurses in New York or Houston or London or Paris who have watched these people die rather horribly in their Intensive Care Units.

The self deluding credulity of human beings is apparently limitless, which is both sad and alarming. We will cling onto ideas that have no basis in fact for a host of reasons, the most significant of which is apparently the need to protect ourselves from aspects of reality that we find hard or impossible to accept.

Thus fear of death leads us to cling to the idea that we will be resurrected or reincarnated or otherwise go on living in some way. The objective truth is that when we die we simply cease to be. Only the several quintillion atoms of which we are made are truly immortal.

In a somewhat similar way, it seems that some people deal with a deep seated existential fear of something like C19 by deciding to believe that it does not exist at all.

Such magical thinking is a hall mark of our species and was certainly predominant in traditional societies across the world until comparatively recent times.

I guess that it is not too surprising that the ill informed and fearful amongst us still cling to such beliefs, notwithstanding that they have no basis in scientific fact or even our lived experience.

My personal conclusion about this is that only a small percentage of humans have the necessary intellect, imagination and courage to live entirely in the real world, unhindered by belief systems designed to make them surrender themselves to unknown and unknowable supernatural forces whose self appointed earthly representatives will invariably tell them how to live their lives so as to secure some phantasmagorical post-mortem reward.

I prefer to take the sometimes lonely journey to inevitable oblivion while entirely self directed, free of the cant, hypocrisy and sheer bullshit that is a logical outgrowth of supernatural beliefs of any form.

I cannot honestly say that this is always fun, but at least my self respect remains intact along the way.

Stephen Charteris

Inevitably this virus has found its way to Papua New Guinea. The pattern of growth reported from Port Moresby sounds remarkably similar to what has previously occurred in countries that entered this arena months ago.

In the face of comments about the fragility of the health system the real question should be what information does each grandparent, mum, dad and school student need to have the best chance of minimising the risk of infection to themselves, their loved ones and community.

The tools that everyone can access include hand and cough hygiene, social distancing, homemade face masks and PPE for health workers, local control over people movement and self-isolation.

An information barrage needs to be launched to every community, institution and school about how this virus spreads, symptoms, time course of the disease, what tools are available and what actions each community should plan to take to minimise the impact of local infection.

Add a central data collection team broadcasting daily updates on the spread and recommended containment measures to be applied.

Knowledge is power and knowledge coupled with sensible planning and action would seem to be the best way forward until an effective vaccine becomes available.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Ever since Covid-19 appeared it was very apparent that PNG was probably and eventually going to be hard hit.

Given the nature of the country and its people this was an inevitable given.

With this in mind the country should have been pouring resources into its hospitals and other agencies when the virus first appeared on the horizon over six months ago.

However, with its wait awhile attitude, it now has to face the onslaught largely unprepared.

Martyn Namorong may claim the virus is a hoax but it's not the virus that is a hoax, it's the PNG government that is a hoax.

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