Not a minor problem: Children in Indonesia most vulnerable to COVID-19

This photo taken on May 20, 2020 shows elementary school students (R) greeting their teacher Henrikus Suroto (L) as he arrives to teach them at their homes in Magelang, Central Java, after schools were closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (AFP)
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Updated 15 June 2020

Not a minor problem: Children in Indonesia most vulnerable to COVID-19

  • Schools remain shut to address issue which has affected thousands

JAKARTA: Schools in Indonesia will not be opening anytime soon, with 94 percent of students across the country living in areas with a moderate to high risk of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, and over 6,000 children said to have been exposed to the disease.

In a virtual press conference on Monday, Education Minister Nadiem Makarim said that the school year would start on schedule in July, but students would have to study from home, adding that only schools in the green zone, or regions where the infection cases are low, could reopen for the new academic year.

“Only six percent of our students live in the green zone — 85 regions and cities — where schools can gradually reopen. But they will need their parents’ consent to go back studying in school,” Makarim said.

The announcement came after the Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI) advised in late May against the reopening of schools at least until December this year after regional governments across Indonesia started to ease some restrictions and reopen the economy.

“They need to clearly explain to the parents that their children will still be exposed to the risk of infections. Assigning zones can be very dynamic — today a region may be a green zone, but it could change anytime,” IDAI Chairman Aman Pulungan told Arab News.

“We can consider reopening schools when there are no new COVID-19 cases in a month, and  no movement of people in and out of the region.”

As of Monday, there were 1,017 new infections and 64 deaths reported in the country, increasing the national total to 39,294 cases and 2,198 deaths.

About 3,000 people below the age of 18 had contracted the virus, 7.8 percent of the national tally, while around 3,400 minors were being treated, according to data from the COVID-19 national task force.

The data also showed that 550 minors had died, out of which 353 were under five years old.

“The number of children who contracted COVID-19 and who died from it continues to increase every week. We should not let even one child die,” Pulungan said, adding that an average of four percent of children who tested positive for the virus died every week, and that the figure of those who had died while undergoing treatment was even higher.

Even before the pandemic, Indonesian children were already exposed to several health issues such as malnutrition, with the World Health Organization (WHO) listing Indonesia among countries with the highest prevalence of stunted growth. In 2019, the prevalence was 27 percent, still well above the WHO standard of 20 percent.

“The comorbidities found in adults are found in children, too, but many Indonesian children also suffer from diarrhea, dengue fever, tuberculosis, and malnutrition,” Pulungan said.

Data from the Ministry of Health showed that 17.7 percent of Indonesian children below five years of age suffered from malnutrition, making their immune systems even more at risk from COVID-19.

“The government needs to beef up its efforts in preventing children from contracting the coronavirus and treating those exposed to the disease,” Susanto, chairman of the Indonesian Commission for Child Protection, told Arab News.


Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

Updated 11 July 2020

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

  • 246,351 cases registered since late February

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has developed a mobile app to keep track of travelers entering the country through land routes and airports to ensure a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The app will be rolled out in a few days,” Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO of the National Information Technology Board (NITB), told Arab News this week.

He said the app would help record symptoms of the incoming travelers and keep track of their location. It would also communicate coronavirus test results to them and check if they were violating the self-quarantine requirement.

The government was testing everyone entering the country until recently. Many travelers were kept at big isolation centers established in hotels and marquees for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to government officials, the new app will eliminate the costs associated with the old quarantine protocols and maintain a better record of people’s movements.

Pakistan has registered 246,351 coronavirus infections since late February and over 5,000 deaths.

The government has also been carrying out contact tracing to test suspected cases and sent over half-a-million text messages to those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

“We don’t share contact tracing numbers with the public since they keep changing on a daily basis,” Shah said, adding that people suspected to have the disease were requested to get themselves tested.

Discussing the projections, he said the numbers of coronavirus cases would keep changing but that the government’s actions had proved successful in bringing down the country’s infection rate.

“Smart lockdowns in different areas have helped reduce the disease,” Shah said, adding the decision to lock down virus hotspots was taken on the basis of data collected by the NITB.

He said that the COVID-19 curve would flatten if the government properly managed Eid Al-Adha and Muharram processions in the coming months.

According to independent IT analysts, the app would prove ineffective if “big data” was not properly analyzed.

“Developing an app is not a big deal,” Mustaneer Abdullah, an IT expert, told Arab News. “The real task is to extract useful information through the algorithms and break it down in specific categories to achieve the desired targets. The trouble is that government departments lack that kind of expertise.”

He also pointed out that such apps were hazardous to public privacy in the absence of data protection laws since they sought permission from users at the time of installation to access their photo galleries, locations and contact lists to work smoothly.

“The data collected through these apps can also be a goldmine for scoundrels. People working with government departments could leak user information to digital marketers or fraudsters with total impunity.”

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