Indonesia braces for coronavirus spike

Indonesia braces for coronavirus spike
A worker sprays disinfectant to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia March 22, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 March 2020

Indonesia braces for coronavirus spike

Indonesia braces for coronavirus spike
  • Experts say government measures taken are too little, too late

JAKARTA: As of Sunday, Indonesia’s coronavirus (COVID-19) death rate stood at 9.3 percent, with 48 deaths reported out of 514 confirmed cases even as 29 patients recovered from the disease.

But experts warned that the number of cases could be just the tip of the iceberg. “There could be deaths caused by coronavirus that weren’t detected, so the cause of death was reported as something else such as pneumonia,” Berry Juliandi, a biologist from Bogor Agricultural University and a member of the Indonesia Young Scientists Forum, told Arab News.

“We also haven’t conducted extensive screenings. The numbers recorded so far is an indication that we can’t downplay the situation.”

He said authorities should have started preparations in January, “but here we are just beginning to prepare in March. It’s late, but I hope the government won’t downplay the situation anymore.”

The government has been under fire for its slow response to the outbreak, and for not taking the early warning signs seriously.

Its responses were initially focused more on the outbreak’s economic and tourism impact than on public health, such as announcing a plan in late February to allocate 298.5 billion Indonesian rupiahs ($19 billion) for tourism incentives, including 72 billion rupiahs for influencers.

The government had also been criticized for only assigning the Health Ministry’s research and development center to conduct tests to determine confirmed cases. But it finally decentralized testing.

Government spokesman Achmad Yurianto told a press conference on Sunday that an air force plane had arrived with 150,000 test kits from China that will be distributed to all affected areas based on the calculated risk factor. “We expect to have up to 1 million more test kits,” he added.

Yurianto said the government has converted the former 2018 Asian Games athletes’ village and a nearby five-star hotel in central Jakarta into a temporary hospital to treat patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

Jakarta has thus far recorded 307 of cases nationwide, making it the country’s coronavirus epicenter. 

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan on Friday said the capital is under a state of emergency for the next two weeks. 

He urged businesses to encourage more employees to work from home and only maintain a skeleton staff as public transportation network will have reduced fleets and operating hours.

President Joko Widodo has ruled out a lockdown as an option to curb COVID-19’s exponential growth, and said such a decision could only be taken by him, not by regional heads, despite public pressure.

Meanwhile, Doni Monardo — head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, who spearheads the national coronavirus response taskforce — said: “What we need now is people to be disciplined in social distancing, otherwise more and more people will be exposed to the virus and be infected.”

The virus has spread to 20 out of 34 provinces, including all six provinces on the densely populated Java island, where Jakarta is located and more than half of Indonesia’s 270 million population reside. 

Risk management expert Haryoko Wirjosoetomo said a city lockdown is too late now as infections have spread from Jakarta to the other five provinces on Java, and other major islands such as Bali, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua.

“The viable option would be to impose an island-wide lockdown, more importantly on islands where there are still no confirmed positive cases,” he told Arab News.

“Those islands should close their ports to visitors coming from other provinces where COVID-19 cases are found.”

The number of infections out of Indonesia’s total population so far is low compared to other countries.

But he said the risk of a higher mortality rate in Indonesia is far greater given its lack of health care facilities, especially in the eastern part of the country, where many of them are in a dire situation.