Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo warned government officials on Monday not to let their guard down as confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country surpassed 100,000 – the most of any country in East Asia.
Sharp increases in coronavirus cases have been detected since the archipelago nation began to gradually reopen the economy and public life in June, following three months of partial lockdowns implemented by local governments in parts of the decentralized country.
“Don’t lose your sense of crisis. Health is our priority and it should not be compromised in the slightest,” he told a cabinet meeting to discuss the pandemic.
“The target is clear – reduce the fatality rate as much as possible, increase the recovery rate and curb the spread of new cases as quickly as possible,” he said.
The president said special attention must be paid to eight provinces which account for 82 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the country, including the capital Jakarta, neighboring West Java, and East Java. Officials said new cluster had been traced to traditional markets, boarding schools, seminars, shopping malls and offices.
Jokowi urged his ministers to speed up disbursement of COVID-19 stimulus funds totaling 695 trillion rupiah (U.S. $47.7 billion), pointing out that only 19 percent had been spent thus far.
“The absorption of the stimulus funds still leaves much to be desired and the pace has been slow,” he said. “We need to work fast and make breakthroughs.”
Manila-based Asian Development Bank last month projected the Indonesian gross domestic product would contract by 1 percent in 2020 – down from a forecast of 2.5 percent growth in April.
‘Social Restrictions must be strengthened’
The world’s fourth most-populous country, which recorded its first case in March, Indonesia recorded 1,525 new infections in the past 24 hours, taking the national tally to 100,303. Fifty-seven deaths overnight brought the number of fatalities 4,838, officials said.
Globally, the number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 16.3 million and nearly 650,000 people have died as of Monday, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, said the government’s belief that it could strike a balance between health and the economy has been misguided.
“This is because if you want to reduce the transmission rate, large-scale social restrictions must be strengthened, and this will hurt the economy,” he told BenarNews.
Even though the government has not lifted restrictions entirely, many people are acting as if things had returned to normal, Wahyono said.
“It’s a choice the government has made, but more than 1,000 cases every day is too many, and this country should not let people die for the sake of the economy,” he said.
COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito, meanwhile, said the fatality rate was decreasing and daily recoveries were almost the same as new cases.
“We are aware that human lives must not take a back seat,” he said.
Earlier this month another 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 steady pace of daily cases.
“Many people believe that they are not at risk of contracting COVID-19 and ignore the health protocols,” he told BenarNews.
‘Highest rate’ of child fatalities
Indonesian Pediatric Society chairman Aman Bhakti last week said the nation had recorded the most COVID-19 deaths of children among countries in Southeast Asia. Neighbors Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have recorded none, the Straits Times reported.
“As the pandemic is not yet over, Indonesia will likely have the highest rate of child deaths from COVID-19 in the world,” he said, according to the news site.
The task force has recorded 48 deaths among children 5 and younger and 43 for children ages 6 to 17.
Meanwhile, overburdened health facilities, disrupted food supply chains and income loss caused by COVID-19 could lead to a sharp rise in the number of malnourished children in Indonesia, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement released on June 30. Even before COVID-19, Indonesia faced high levels of malnutrition, with more than 2 million children suffering from severe wasting, and more than 7 million children 5 and younger suffering from impaired growth and development, the statement said.
“COVID-19 has hit vulnerable families the hardest,” UNICEF Indonesia representative Debora Comini said. “Unless we urgently scale up prevention and treatment services for malnourished children, we risk seeing an increase in child illness and deaths linked to malnutrition.”
The medical profession also has been hit hard by the pandemic. The Indonesian Medical Association said at least 68 doctors had died from COVID-19, while the National Nurse Association said at least 39 of its members had lost their lives.