Indonesia has so far never reported any COVID-19 cases, unlike its neighbors, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines, which have reported a number of coronavirus cases. This fact has raised questions. Several foreign medical researchers expressed worry that the cases might have gone undetected in a country having a population of over 265 million.
A team of researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in the United States, in a study conducted recently said that Indonesia’s lack of confirmed cases “may suggest the potential for undetected cases”, as air travel may contribute to cases being exported from China. The concern was based on the high number of airline passengers traveling between Indonesia and Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China.
Indonesia’s Health Minister, Terawan Agus Putranto, however, dismissed the study, citing the ministry’s international-standard medical procedures.
"All have been thoroughly checked. Our medical kits (to check the possibility of coronavirus) are from the United States of America," Putranto remarked on Feb 11, 2020.
"We are transparent with our research. If there are any experts from WHO (UN's World Health Organization) and US researchers interested in taking a look at our medical tests, they are welcome to come to our lab," he said.
He further noted that the UN's health body had approved the medical procedures conducted by the government of Indonesia.
"If there is a request for surveys or research, please file a letter with us, but we expect there to be no statements discrediting a country's effort (to tackle the virus)," he added.
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In response to the question, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) confirmed that 62 suspected coronavirus cases in Indonesia had tested negative.
"Although there were 62 suspects, all of them tested negative after being checked. We should be grateful," President Jokowi remarked during a plenary cabinet meeting at the Bogor on Feb 11.
On Feb 10, the Indonesian Ministry of Health confirmed it had found some 62 suspected cases of coronavirus in Indonesia. The 62 specimens had been sent by 28 hospitals in 16 provinces and examined.
President Jokowi lauded the hard work of all the ministries and institutions, especially the Ministry of Health, as a precautionary measure against the entry of the coronavirus into Indonesia.
"I think this demonstrates our vigilance, caution, and additional hard work so that the virus does not enter Indonesia," President Jokowi emphasized.
President Jokowi called on his staff to be more active in notifying the public with regard to the handling as a precautionary measure against the entry of the coronavirus, as well as the developments of the virus in foreign countries.
The Government of Indonesia is serious in taking precautionary measures against the threat of the coronavirus, he said.
"I request the media to continuously inform about this in the morning, afternoon, and evening, so the information is concrete and outsiders can understand that the Indonesian Government is really serious in handling this," the president stated.
The government has also been observing as many as 285 Indonesian citizens, comprising 238 Indonesians returning from Wuhan, five officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and flight crew members on Natuna Island, Riau Islands Province, since Feb 2, 2020.
Until Feb 13, all of them returning from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, have been in good health while being quarantined in Natuna. They will be released from the quarantine on Feb 15.
In addition to this, Vinod Kumar Bura, a medical officer at the WHO Jakarta office, expressed confidence that Indonesia has the capability to detect the novel coronavirus by utilizing proper facilities in accordance with the WHO's standards.
"They have just tested all the specimens from 60 cases in the last few weeks and have confirmed that none of them had tested positive for the presence of the coronavirus. We are fully confident that this laboratory is capable of detecting this novel coronavirus," he told the press after visiting the virus detection facility at the Health Research and Development Department (Balitbangkes) of the Indonesian Ministry of Health on Feb 11.
The WHO had declared a coronavirus outbreak in China as an international health emergency, encouraging all nations to intensify awareness of the transmission and spread of the virus. Bura pointed to the high risk of being infected by the virus within and outside China.
Indonesia is concerned over the coronavirus outbreak and has increased capacity for handling the detection of the virus, including having 100 referral hospitals for cases of new disease infections, such as the coronavirus, across Indonesia.
A total of 26 out of the 100 hospitals have capable human resources, conducted simulations for the management of emerging diseases, and have 52 isolation rooms, with 113 beds devoted to emerging diseases.
"We continue to work closely with the Indonesian government to monitor the situation," he noted.
Siswanto from the Health Research and Development Department explained that the method for the examination of the coronavirus was in accordance with the WHO's standards. The WHO has outlined laboratory confirmation tests for the presence of the coronavirus through sample tests to be conducted twice.
A total of four steps need to be taken to detect the coronavirus, notably identifying the suspects, collecting the specimen, transferring the specimen through a viral transport medium, and conducting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using a PCR machine.
The laboratory for virus detection is equipped with adequate equipment and skilled experts.
The national reference laboratory for emerging infectious diseases has the requisite tools and capabilities including culture, serology, PCR, Sanger sequencing and next-generation sequencing, flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy.
The facility has a level of safety for handling biological agents or biosafety levels 2 and 3 and biorepository.
So far, none of the 1,890 Indonesians staying in Mainland China have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing confirmed.
"The number of Indonesians in Mainland China has reached 1,890 people and all of them are confirmed to be in good health," Indonesian Ambassador, Djauhari Oratmangun, said in a statement on Feb 11.
Inside the country, the Indonesian Government has taken several measures to prevent the entry of the virus.
The government has suspended all flights to and from China, as well as the visa-free policy for Chinese citizens, and barred entry to visitors who had traveled to China in the last 14 days.
Besides, the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation has also heightened its supervision and alertness at ports in anticipation of COVID-19.
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