Indonesia was relatively “late” to the Covid-19 scene, reporting its first two cases on March 2, three months into the outbreak. Even then, concerns were mounting that the fourth most populous country in the world was failing to properly identify transmission of the virus.
A Harvard study released in February noted that despite not reporting any cases yet, Indonesia might be housing many undetected cases, as the country has strong travel connections with China. The country’s Health Minister, Dr Terawan Agus Putranto, said the study was “insulting” and that Indonesia had no cases to report, “all because of prayers”.
Nine days after Indonesia confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, it reported its first fatality on March 11. At that point, Indonesia reported 27 confirmed cases of infection.
As of Monday (March 23), the country has 579 confirmed cases and 49 deaths, with its fatality rate being the highest in the world at an alarming 9.3 per cent. According to scientists and experts, this is because the reported case numbers are too low. Given the government’s reputation, the reality may not line up with what is being publicised.
It has only been three weeks since the first Covid-19 cases were reported in Indonesia, yet the numbers are rising concernedly every day. The government, led by President Joko Widodo, has so far been criticised for being slow to act — there was not enough transparency, they were slow to notify regional governments of cases and measures, and there was confusion and a lack of communication between government bodies.
Indonesia finds itself facing a huge challenge — to rally and get a firm grip on the outbreak, before it spreads unrestrained throughout the country’s more remote islands, where it could grow and spread, “undiscovered and untreated for years to come”.
“The coronavirus could live on in Indonesia long after it has disappeared from the rest of the world,” wrote Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Dikanaya Tarahita of the South China Morning Post.