BUKA, (ABC) — In Papua New Guinea’s Autonomous Region of Bougainville, life is largely carrying on as normal, despite a dramatic increase in the number COVID-19 cases.

For months the region had recorded just one positive case of coronavirus but over the last week the figure has jumped up to at least 40.

In the capital Buka, Helen Hakena says most people are ignoring the request by health authorities to socially distance themselves.

“There’s no social distancing,” she said.

“I came from the bank and people are queueing in great numbers … no masks … people were coughing … people don’t care,” she said.

In Arawa in central Bougainville Tania Basiou said many people are either unaware of the surge in COVID-19 cases or they don’t care.

“Life is normal, the markets are packed, there’s no social distancing,” she said.

“They’re tired of it, they’re tired of hearing about it because they don’t think it’s real … they think it’s a white man’s disease because we haven’t had that many deaths”.

Bougainville’s health secretary Clement Totavun admits his officials need to do more to get people to take the situation seriously.

“We know that the risk level is still very high but the risk perception amongst our people is very low,” he said.

There’s a lot of speculation on social media that the source of the outbreak was a meeting of PNG and Bougainville government officials in Arawa last month.

Among those at the meeting of the Joint Supervisory Body were PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape and Bougainville’s President Ishmael Toroama.

“A couple of people that attended the JSB had positive results,” said Totavun.

But he said his officials could not conclusively pinpoint the meeting as the source of the outbreak.

Only one of the people who has tested positive for COVID-19 in Bougainville fell seriously ill and Totavun said they are now in a stable condition…. PACNEWS

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