Indonesia set to become third virus hotspot in Asia, expert warns

08-Jul-2020 Intellasia | SMH | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Indonesia will become the third coronavirus epicentre in Asia after China and India, according to one of the country’s top epidemiologists.

University of Indonesia epidemiologist Pandu Riono said coronavirus infection rates would continue to rise until September or October, when it could reach as high 4000 cases per day. He said university modelling suggested the rise would continue unabated unless stricter measures were introduced.

On Sunday, Indonesia reported 1607 new infectionsits second-highest ever figure, and a daily record of 82 new deaths.

It now has recorded 63,749 positive cases and 3171 deaths and, if the current rising trend of infections continues, will pass China’s official figures of 83,557 cases and 4634 deaths in a matter of weeks.

Though experts have questioned both China and Indonesia’s official figures, the trend of a rising infection rate in Indonesia is clear.

Dr Pandu, who has advised the provincial governors of Jakarta, West Java and other cities on how to combat the pandemic, said Indonesia needed to double or triple the rate of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to get a better handle on the disease’s spread across the country’s 17,000 islands.

“The figures are very low, that is a mistake. The government regulations, how they do testing, is based on symptoms. That is their mistake,” he said, as these testing rules potentially missed detecting asymptomatic people.

Dr Pandu said that large scale social distancing had not worked in Indonesia and urged the government to widely promote three measuresknown as the three Ms: Masker, Menjaga jarak and Mencuci tangan or wearing a mask, social distancing and washing handsto stop the spread of the disease.

In the past month, many provinces have begun to roll back social distancing and other restrictions, amid growing pressure on the Indonesian economy and the country’s large informal workforce.

If the “three Ms” measures were introduced and heavily promoted by health authorities, Dr Pandu said infection rates would peak sooner in July and begin to fall by October.

In the absence of tough new measures, Indonesia “will become the third epicentre in Asia” after China and India, he said.

At present, Indonesia is testing about 10,000 people per day and processing about 20,000 specimens per day. That is 3347 tests nationwide tests per million people.

According to the Worldometer coronavirus monitoring website, Singapore has conducted 129,509 tests per one million people, Malaysia has tested 24,854 per million people, Thailand has tested 8648 per million people and the Philippines has tested 7286 people per million people. Australia has tested 107,888 per million people.

In recent weeks, in his daily coronavirus briefings, Achmad Yurianto, the Indonesian health ministry’s Disease Control and Prevention directorate Secretary, has emphasized that many of the country’s 34 provinces are considered green zonesthat is, provinces have no or minimal infection rates.

On June 29, for example, Yurianto stated that 13 provinces had reported zero case in a single dayAceh, Bengkulu, Yogyakarta, Jambi, West Kalimantan, Riau Islands, West Sumatera, Central Sulawesi, Lampung, North Maluku, West Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara and Gorontalo.

But an analysis of PCR testing rates in some of those provincesdata that is not regularly published by authorities, and which some provinces refuse to share directly with The Age and Sydney Morning Heraldrevealed testing rate as low as 94 people per million people.

Aceh province, which is home to just short of 5 million people and which on June 28 had 79 infections, had tested just 436 people per million. Jambi province, home to nearly 3.4 million people had 117 infectionsbut had tested just 94 people per million.

In total, eight of those 13 provinces listed by Yurianto had recorded less than 1000 PCR tests per million peopleless than a third of the national average. PCR tests are considered to be the gold standard and far more accurate than the blood-based rapid test.

That meant, Dr Pandu said, that some provinces “are not really green” despite the government claiming infections rates were very low.

“We cannot justify that an area is a green zone when the testing is very low, it’s not justified based on epidemiological principles.”


Category: Indonesia

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