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

  • 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.


Mafias looking to gain from Italy’s economic losses

A police car passes the Maschio Angioino castle, as Italy struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Naples on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 31 March 2020

Mafias looking to gain from Italy’s economic losses

  • Businesses at risk of bankruptcy due to coronavirus lockdown may turn to organized crime to stay afloat

ROME: As Italy mourns nearly 11,000 dead from coronavirus, and braces for the devastation of the eurozone’s third-largest economy, investigators in the country believe that organized crime is looking to capitalize on the situation.

The Economist Intelligence Unit last week said it expects Italy’s gross domestic product to contract by a colossal 7 percent for the year.
Italian experts believe that some 65 percent of small and medium businesses in the country are at risk of bankruptcy. That is music to the mob’s ears.
Italy’s mafias, from the historic Cosa Nostra in Sicily to the immensely powerful ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and the trigger-happy Camorra in Naples, were “caught on the back foot by the virus, but are now organizing themselves,” Bologna’s Chief Prosecutor Ignazio de Francisci told Arab News.
Last weekend, Italy’s secret service warned the government of potential riots in the country’s south, fomented by organized crime, should the virus epicenter move from north to south.
The mob was believed by some crime experts to have orchestrated revolts in jails nationwide early on in the pandemic, with prisoners demanding early release, fearful of catching the disease in overcrowded facilities.
“The mob will be looking for loopholes in the system. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for suspicious operations, the creation of new companies, dummy corporations,” said De Francisci, who was a member of the anti-mafia judiciary established in the Palermo Court by Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was killed along with his wife and three security escorts in 1992 when a bomb exploded under their car on a Sicilian motorway.
Giuseppe Pignatone, a former mafia-hunter in the city of Reggio Calabria who was recently appointed by Pope Francis as chief justice in the Vatican, said the epidemic will “inevitably make the judiciary’s job more difficult over the coming weeks and years.”
Italian anti-Camorra author Roberto Saviano, who lives under police protection, said in an article in La Repubblica daily: “Just look at the portfolio of the mafias, to see how much they can earn from this pandemic.”
He added: “Where have they invested the last few decades? Multi-service companies (canteens, cleaning, disinfection), waste recycling, transportation, funeral homes, oil and food distribution. That’s how they’ll make money. The mafias know what you have, and will need, and they give it, and will give it, on their own terms.”
Saviano, who wrote “Gomorra,” a bestseller on the illegal activities of the Camorra, recalled the last big epidemic in Italy, the 1884 cholera outbreak in Naples, which killed more than half of the city’s inhabitants.
At the time, the government paid out immense sums for a cleanup, most of which went straight into the Camorra’s pockets.
It could be the same story this time. “The mafia is already carefully planning ahead to when the economy will start to be rebuilt,” said De Francisci.
Mafias are believed to be selling medical-grade masks originally intended for hospitals on the dark web, and they also have influence in the supply of groceries. They have an estimated turnover of €120 billion ($133 billion) per year.

HIGHLIGHT

Italian experts believe that some 65 percent of small and medium businesses in the country are at risk of bankruptcy. That is music to the mob’s ears.

And they are preparing for a cocaine boom when people come out of quarantine. According to a police report, mafia-linked drug dealers are already dodging the strict limits on movements placed on Italians by posing as pizza drivers and doing home deliveries.
A wave of mafia-linked extortion rackets is also predicted in the wake of the financial disaster caused by the virus.
The closures of restaurants and hotels will have a devastating effect. If money does not come from the state soon, many will fail. And in order not to fail, business owners could turn to criminal organizations.
Despite the nation’s public debt and its difficult relations with the EU and the European Central Bank, Italy’s government has already started pumping billions of euros to subsidize those who are not receiving a salary due to the closure of the businesses in which they were employed.
And Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that mayors this week will issue food vouchers to help low-income people cope with the economic consequences of coronavirus.
Using an initial €400 million fund, and with an advance payment of €4.3 billion, the government wants to help the poorest sections of society.
Local municipalities will have to use this fund to buy food, medicines and other essential goods for citizens with low incomes.
This came after police with batons and guns moved in to protect supermarkets in Sicily after reports of looting by locals who could no longer afford food.
A group of locals ran out of a supermarket in the city of Palermo without paying. “We have no money to pay. We have to eat,” someone reportedly shouted at the cashiers.
Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando, who is recognized worldwide as one of the most engaged politicians against organized crime, told Arab News: “We’re sure that the mafia is behind all this. The state has to be watchful and provide municipalities with enough financial resources so that those in need won’t go to the mob for protection and support.”