JAKARTA: The Indonesian government has been urged to step up efforts to detect and handle COVID-19, as the country reported its first two confirmed cases this week.
Medical professionals and politicians said on Wednesday (Mar 4) that the government needs to do more and act swiftly, judging by the fact that coronavirus has infected 90,000 people in over 60 countries.
“The government can no longer act based on the minimum requirement set by the World Health Organization,” said Dr Hermawan Saputra, a board member of the Indonesian Public Health Experts Organisation (IKAMI).
“The government needs to go beyond that.”
Dr Saputra highlighted the fact that Indonesia, a country of 264 million people, has only tested samples from 412 patients as of Mar 3.
This total includes the 69 Indonesians on board the Diamond Princess and 188 on board the World Dream cruise ships, who were tested before they were brought back to Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the 238 students evacuated from China’s Hubei province - the epicentre of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak - were never tested for the virus.
The Indonesian government has earlier stated that only those who showed symptoms and had contact history with COVID-19 patients would be tested.
Since the outbreak first started late last year, many Indonesians have expressed concerns that Indonesia has been complacent in terms of pandemic preparedness.
A Member of Parliament, Mr Darul Siska, questioned the government’s seriousness in detecting the virus.
“The government always said that there is nothing to worry about. (They said) that officials are monitoring all entry points into the country to stop the virus from spreading to Indonesia,” he told CNA.
“But the virus did spread to Indonesia. So clearly what the government has been doing is not enough.”
In light of the first confirmed cases, a health official said on Wednesday that the government has agreed to hasten the detection of COVID-19 in Indonesia.
HANDLING OF COVID-19 SITUATION CRITICISED
Indonesia had on Feb 5 imposed a travel ban to and from China. Tourists of any nationality who have been to China within 14 days are barred from entering Indonesia.
Mr Darul said the ban came too late.
“The government is more concerned about the impact a travel ban would have on tourism and the economy. The government must put the well being of Indonesians first,” he said.
Dr Saputra, the public health expert, was disappointed that Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto appeared to have taken the matter lightly.
He said the minister risked giving the impression that the government is not serious in handling the COVID-19 situation.
The minister had been quoted as saying that people only need to stay fit and pray to prevent themselves from getting infected.
When Indonesia’s first cases were announced on Monday, the minister said the fatality rate of the common cold is higher than COVID-19. “How come (COVID-19) caused such great hysteria?” he was quoted as saying by Indonensian media.
“It is true that the last thing we want is for people to panic. But as a minister leading the fight against the outbreak, (the minister) should refrain from making jokes about the virus and trivialise the epidemic,” Dr Saputra said.
The government should also treat patients’ information with more care, said Dr Adib Khumaidi, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI).
He said the photographs and full names of Indonesia’s first two cases - a 31-year-old dance instructor and her 64-year-old mother - were leaked to the media.
The city government of Depok, where the two reside, even disclosed their full address.
“This will discourage people from reporting that they might have contracted the virus,” Dr Khumaidi told CNA.
“People with symptoms might be reluctant to tell the truth to medical examiners that they have contact history or have travelled abroad, because they know that their privacy would not be protected.”
CALLS FOR DEDICATED TASK FORCE
The parliament has urged the government to form a dedicated task force to handle the situation, said House of Representatives Speaker Puan Maharani.
“The government needs to form a dedicated team so all efforts to mitigate the epidemic are coordinated, synergised and integrated,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
Mdm Maharani said the dedicated task force should comprise of officials from different agencies and institutions to handle all aspects of mitigation efforts from immigration policies to evacuation of Indonesians in epidemic centres.
“The government must also be proactive and reach out to vulnerable groups who might be exposed to (COVID-19) and provide tests for them."
Meanwhile, a health official said the government would step up efforts to detect cases, following the two confirmed cases.
“We will no longer wait until a patient to be officially declared as a suspect for them to be tested,” Dr Achmad Yurianto, the ministry’s secretary for disease prevention and control, told a press conference on Wednesday.
He also said that the government will increase the capacity of laboratories across the country so that they will be able to conduct tests for COVID-19.
Currently, all samples are taken to the ministry’s biomedical research centre facility in Jakarta. This has slowed down the confirmation process and increasing the risk of the samples being damaged along the way.
“There will be laboratories capable of running the tests in major cities across Indonesia so test results will be out quicker,” he said.