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Indonesia Announces First COVID Death, as WHO Calls Outbreak a Pandemic

Anton Muhajir, Tia Asmara and Basilio Sepe
Denpasar, Indonesia, Jakarta, and Manila
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A worker sprays disinfectant in a hallway inside a Manila office building, as the Philippines takes steps to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, March 11, 2020.
A worker sprays disinfectant in a hallway inside a Manila office building, as the Philippines takes steps to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, March 11, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Indonesia on Wednesday recorded its first death from the novel coronavirus, while the neighboring Philippines announced that a second person there had died of COVID-19 and the World Health Organization officially declared the fast-moving global outbreak a pandemic.

A 53-year-old British woman who had tested positive for the virus after arriving in Bali late last month for a vacation on the Indonesian island died at a local hospital, said Dewa Made Indra, the head of Bali’s COVID-19 task force. The woman also suffered from diabetes, hypertension and a chronic lung disease, he said.

“Her treatment was carried out in accordance with the procedure for COVID-19 patients,” he told journalists.

John Nickell, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Jakarta, confirmed the woman’s death from the virus.

“We are supporting the family of a British woman who has died in Indonesia and are in contact with local authorities,” he said in a statement.

At least 21 people who came into contact with the woman were being monitored for possible symptoms, Indra said.

The woman was among eight new novel coronavirus cases confirmed by the Indonesian health ministry on March 10. On Wednesday, officials said that seven more cases had been detected, bringing the nationwide total to 34 after Southeast Asia’s most populous country announced its first cases on March 2. Authorities said 735 people had been tested for the virus.

A medical worker dressed in protective gear pulls a gurney from an ambulance at Sanglah Hospital in Bali, Indonesia, March 11, 2020. [Reuters]
A medical worker dressed in protective gear pulls a gurney from an ambulance at Sanglah Hospital in Bali, Indonesia, March 11, 2020. [Reuters]

In the Philippines, health authorities said late Wednesday that a second person diagnosed with COVID-19 had died of the disease, in the first death recorded in the country since early February.

“The Department of Health (DOH) confirms circulating reports regarding the death of a confirmed COVID-19 patient in Manila,” the department announced in a statement without going into details other than saying it was “currently gathering and validating more information on the reported death.”

The department also confirmed 16 new cases of the coronavirus that raised the nationwide number to 49 detected cases, a number that has spiked since late last week.

Earlier this week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a national health emergency over the viral outbreak after health authorities on Saturday confirmed the first locally transmitted case of COVID-19.

On Wednesday in the Philippine capital, health workers assisted by the fire department sprayed disinfectant in normally crowded areas of Manila, including City Hall, near the central market as well as in the district of Santa Cruz, home to some of the city’s slums.

Mall operators banned people who had a fever from going into their shops, and stationed guards who wore masks and were armed with temperature guns to check visitors.

“The DOH and deployed surveillance teams are now conducting extensive information-gathering and contact tracing activities on the new cases,” the health department said, promising to provide more details as soon as the information became available.

Two of those who tested positive were among 445 Filipinos who were repatriated after serving as crew members or were passengers on the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that docked in Japan last month. As many as 35 Filipinos tested positive for the virus while on the ship, and were treated in Japanese hospitals.

“From the beginning, DOH was aware of the risk that some of the repatriates might test positive for COVID-19. This is why strict infection prevention and control measures were enforced during the quarantine period to protect our people and the health workers attending to them,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

“We commend the health workers who have been tirelessly caring for our repatriates for the past month. First, those from Wuhan, and now those from Japan. Their dedication to their work and their countrymen is truly inspiring,” Duque said.

The outbreak has forced the cancellation of crucifixion reenactments scheduled for April 10 in farming villages around San Fernando city, north of Manila. About a dozen Catholics have themselves nailed to wooden crosses on Good Friday as penance for their sins in an event that attracts thousands of tourists, Agence France-Presse reported.

COVID-19, which first broke out in China’s Wuhan city, has been spreading rapidly across the globe in recent weeks, with more than 113,000 cases detected in at least 109 countries and territories. At least 4,000 people have died, mostly in China, according to the latest information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

On Wednesday in Geneva, the U.N. agency finally came out to declare the outbreak a pandemic.

“This is the first pandemic caused by a #coronavirus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a message posted on Twitter.

“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic. This is the first pandemic that can be controlled,” he added.

Visa on arrival revoked

Meanwhile, Thai officials announced that they were revoking visa-on-arrival programs with 18 nations and Taiwan following a meeting on COVID-19. Included on the list are China, India, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

“Travelers must seek visa at Thai Embassy and go through screening such as having medical certificate to lessen chance of spreading COVID-19,” Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said after the meeting.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who also attended the meeting, announced a harsher stance.

“Travelers from South Korea, China including Hong Kong and Macau, Italy and Iran must be quarantined at home with officials monitoring their conditions … All visitors must apply for a visa like in the past,” he said.

Thai officials announced six new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the nationwide total to 59.

Included among them were two immigration officers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, who may have handled passports from infected travelers, a health official told AFP.

In Malaysia, officials reported 20 new cases on Wednesday, increasing the total to 149. The health ministry reported it had been alerted by its counterparts in Brunei that one of the sultanate’s confirmed cases had been to a gathering at a mosque in the Malaysian state of Selangor attended by 10,000 people, before returning home and showing symptoms.

On Sunday, Bangladesh confirmed its first three cases of COVID-19, two people who had traveled to Italy – one of the global hotspots of the viral outbreak – and a family member of one of the victims.

Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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