By Suresh Somu
Jakarta,Indonesia. 12 April 2020. When the deadly coronavirus cut a swathe through Asia, the only country which was spared initially, was Indonesia, the fourth-most populous country in the world. It’s a “blessing from the Almighty” according to Indonesia’s Health Minister, Terawan Agus Purwanto.
Ironical you may say, when Indonesia bore the brunt of past global tragedies when they were never spared from tsunami to widespread floods.
The sprawling South-east Asian country of more than 260 million people has not recorded any cases till late February, according to media reports. And observers may be right to point out the underlying reason.
The fact that the government could be more worried about the social and economic impact of a mass hysteria created by the virus outbreak than the outbreak itself, which poses an extremely serious threat to public health. So it continued to bring foreign tourists to “virus-free” Indonesia while it can, which came to a complete standstill now.
But the present and future don’t look good. The current number of Covid-19 cases is about 2,491, with deaths tallied to 209, an understated figure according to media reports. But one thing for sure: It is only set to rise, unfortunately.
And Indonesia President Joko Widodo means business and has declared a public health emergency on March 31 and ordered social-distancing measures, which is deemed as “between mild and moderate” intervention.
But they’re facing overwhelming odds. The public health system is totally stretched. To an extent, at least 11 doctors have died from the virus and another from exhaustion according to the Indonesian Medical Association.
So it is a clear tell-tale sign that there are poor infection-controls in hospitals and clinics. And what’s more alarming is that the association will cease treating cases if the government does not replenish the dwindling supplies of personal protective equipment.
One could call it threat. But seriously, doctors working with no protective gear equates to digging own grave despite duty calls. So from initial, zero infections in late February to clinching the top spot of virus fatalities in South-East Asia for the wrong reasons, obviously.
To give a clearer perspective, only 36 in every million people are being tested for the coronavirus in Indonesia according to pandemic data site Worldometer. That was downplayed by Indonesia authorities. It stated that it carries out rapid tests and such numbers of any confirmed cases from the procedure do not add to the Covid-19 national tallies.
But let’s not forget that the Indonesia’s Health Ministry has been widely slammed for red tape in bringing in test kit an equipment to read the PCR test samples.
With public outcry, strong criticism and harder nudges from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Indonesia has been forced to take severe preventive measures. The preparation of beds and quarantine centre built on Galang Island near Batam was one. Test kits, N95 and surgical masks, protective gear and portable ventilators supplied by China is another as the country continues to implement further measures.
EXODUS OF PEOPLE
But something else is seriously looming now. Hundreds of thousands of Jakarta residents left for their hometown in recent weeks. And there are growing fears that the annual exodus of millions of people to their hometowns across the archipelago for the Muslim Ramadan holiday would only accelerate the outbreak.
Now, no one wished for the pandemic that has only caused lives, livelihood and brought major dents to the world economics.
Even the strongest economics have not been spared, let alone nations like Indonesia. But being the world’s fourth-most populous country, the government has a lot on its plate now. So we could only hope that it doesn’t get spilled over.
So measures, be it mild or moderate and curbs must be respected and strictly adhered for the good of its people to ride this virus out for the greater good for the nation and world.
God almighty indeed! Let’s keep fingers crossed that Indonesia will truly be “blessed from the Almighty” as what was earlier said by Health Minister Terawan Agus Purwanto, the first military doctor to be appointed to the post since the beginning of the Reform Era in 1998.