Indonesian Army School Emerges as COVID-19 Hotspot

Tia Asmara
200709_ID_Covid_cinema_1000.jpg A woman with a face mask on holds her mobile phone near seats with social distancing markings during preparations ahead of a cinema’s reopening, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are eased in Bandung, Indonesia, July 9, 2020.
Antara via Reuters

Indonesia reported more than 2,600 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the second consecutive day with a record total, as an army candidate officer school emerged as the country’s largest cluster of infections, the national COVID-19 task force said.

The 2,657 new cases detected within the previous 24 hours brought the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia’s largest country to 70,736, said Achmad Yurianto, spokesman for the task force. The virus-related death toll rose to 3,417 after 58 fatalities were reported overnight, he said.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo expressed alarm over the record jump in daily cases.

“I think this is a red alert,” Jokowi said, according to a statement issued by his office. “This should not be taken lightly.”

The sharp increases in coronavirus cases in Indonesia have been detected after the archipelago nation began to gradually reopen its economy in June, following a three-month partial lockdown. And in spite of the record new cases, the government has decided to allow cinemas and other entertainment centers to reopen at the end of July.

As many as 1,262 of the new cases recorded Thursday were linked to the Army Officer Candidate School in Bandung, the capital of West Java province.

Yurianto said that only 17 of the students and instructors at the institution who tested positive for COVID-19 had shown symptoms of the disease. He said those who showed no symptoms were ordered to self-quarantine.

“The entire complex has been sealed off and people can’t get in or out of it,” Yurianto told a daily briefing.

He appealed to the public to stay calm, saying the outbreak was being handled properly.

Elsewhere, West Sumatra provincial Gov. Irwan Prayitno announced that schools in four regencies and cities could begin in-person classes on July 31 with parents’ approval.

“The four regions have been designated as green zones, meaning that there have been no new cases in the past month,” the governor said.

As of Thursday, Indonesia trailed behind China – the country where the virus first broke out – and several other Asian countries reeling from the epidemic. In Asia, India remained at the top of the list in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases (767,296) and related deaths (21,129), according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Cinemas to reopen

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Theater Association (GPBSI) said cinemas nationwide would reopen on July 29.

“Cinema operators need two or three weeks to prepare for the implementation of health protocols,” association chairman Djonny Syafruddin said in a statement Wednesday, referring to requirements for social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions against the coronavirus.

An epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, Pandu Riono, said people’s failure to observe health precautions and poor government communication about the risks had contributed to the upswing in daily cases.

“Many people believe that they are not at risk of contracting COVID-19 and ignore the health protocols,” he told BenarNews.

“People think the new normal means life has returned to normal,” he said.

In his view, education about the public health crisis is lacking and influential people in communities – village heads, religious leaders and public figures, among others – must be invited to participate in educating the general public “so that they can invite their followers to be aware,” he said.

M. Sulthan Azzam in Padang, Indonesia, contributed to this report.


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