Indonesian Doctors Raise Alarm over COVID-19 Deaths among Health Workers

Ronna Nirmala
200406_ID_Covid_region_1000.jpg Indonesian health personnel take a swab from a man to test for coronavirus in Depok city, near Jakarta, April 6, 2020.

The Indonesian Medical Association expressed alarm Monday after the number of doctors who died of COVID-19 jumped to 25, and urged the government to be transparent about its coronavirus data amid criticism about low testing rates.

Health authorities confirmed 218 new infections on Monday, the biggest daily rise during the pandemic in Southeast Asia’s most populous nation, taking the national tally to 2,491. The national death toll rose to 209 after officials recorded 11 new coronavirus-related deaths.

“We need data that everyone can refer to and can be the basis for preventive strategies for health workers, so that we can focus on tackling COVID-19,” Halik Malik, spokesman for the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) told BenarNews.

Naek L. Tobing, a well-known columnist on sexual health, was the latest physician to die of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, Halik said.

At least 18 other doctors and six dentists have died from the pneumonia-like disease, he said, as he also called on the government to be transparent about the number of health workers who had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

On Monday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that Indonesia was not among the 10 countries hit hardest by the virus.

“Let the public be aware that Indonesia is not alone in facing this epidemic, to put things in perspective,” he told reporters.

Globally, more than 73,700 people have died and almost 1,325,000 have been infected, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Halik demanded that the government ensure the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for all health workers.

“If more health workers test positive (for COVID-19), health services will be disrupted, not to mention that they could transmit the disease to patients and their families,” he said.

Indonesia has one doctor per 3,000 people, compared to about five for neighboring Malaysia, according to the World Bank.

The chairman of the COVID-19 task force, Doni Monardo, said he would ask authorities to compel some doctors and dentists to avoid practicing their professions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said last week that there were more than 8,400 ventilators in 2,867 hospitals across the archipelago nation of 260 million people.

He told parliament that Indonesia had more than 40,000 specialist doctors and 11,000 medical interns.

Meanwhile, Jokowi urged authorities on Monday to increase the capacity of laboratories, amid criticism about the country’s low rates of testing.

“The speed of laboratory examinations should be increased, so that we can find out test results more quickly,” Jokowi said.

So far, the government has tested 11,500 people using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, said COVID-19 task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto.

Yurianto said the government had distributed 390,000 pieces of PPE to all hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients and would continue to send more until the outbreak is under control. About 50,000 test kits would be arriving in Jakarta from South Korea on Sunday, local reports said.

No Mass Eid Prayers

Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi said on Monday all congregation prayers including tarawih during the fasting month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr prayers would be banned to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“The tarawih prayers should be performed individually or in congregation with the family at home. Eid gatherings can be done through social media and video calls,” Razi said in a ministry circular distributed last week.

Ramadan is expected to start on April 23, subject to the sighting of the new moon.

He also said there would be no iftar (breaking of the fast) gatherings at government offices, in mosques and private companies during Ramadan.

The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest mass Islamic organization, has also urged Muslims to follow government recommendations on COVID-19 prevention.

“To all NU members, always obey guidelines and policies of the central and regional governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” NU deputy chairman Robikin Emhas said in a circular last week.

On Friday, the Indonesian Council of Ulema, the country’s Islamic affairs authority, issued a statement forbidding Muslim revelers from traveling home for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, saying to do so during the coronavirus pandemic would be a sin.

Bangladesh bans group prayers at all mosques

Other Muslim-majority nations, such as Bangladesh, have also taken drastic steps, including restricting the size of Friday prayers and daily prayers at mosques, to control the daily spike in COVID-19 infections.

“The disease (coronavirus) is spreading through mass gatherings at mosques, temples, pagodas and other religious centers. Our neighboring countries have experienced such incidents,” the Bangladeshi religious affairs ministry said in a statement Monday.

It said the government’s move to restrict Friday prayers was in line with opinions of Muslim scholars, as well as Saudi Arabia’s decision last month to temporarily halt daily prayers inside and outside the walls of the two mosques in Mecca and Medina.

Only 10 people, including five mosque officials, will be allowed for Friday prayers at mosques, according to a notification issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Bangladesh, with a population of 165 million, has so far reported a total of 123 cases of coronavirus infections and 12 deaths.

The South Asian country, where testing is not widespread, has ordered a 10-day break from work and later extended the shutdown of job activities to April 14 to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. The government has also unveiled a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package to prop up key industries battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Malaysia announces stimulus package

On Monday, Malaysia announced a $2.3 billion stimulus package to lighten the financial impact of COVID-19, following an earlier round of support outlay announced last month, bringing the government’s total economic package to 260 billion ringgit ($59.6 billion).

In a report released last week, the World Bank slashed economic growth forecasts in Southeast Asia, with predictions that Malaysia and Thailand would plunge into recession even in a best-case scenario.

Malaysia, which has reported 62 deaths and 3,793 coronavirus infections – the highest reported number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia – imposed restrictions on movement and ordered schools and some shops to close since March 18 in a bid to block the pandemic’s spread. Authorities had extended the initial two-week lockdown to April 14 as the government ordered more stringent restraints.

Also on Monday, Malaysia’s foreign ministry said 161 of its nationals who had participated in a religious gathering in New Delhi last month had been placed under quarantine by the Indian government.

“From the total, 126 were at various quarantine centers in New Delhi while 35 others outside New Delhi,” Deputy Foreign Minister Kamarudin Jaffar said in a press statement.

The ministry also acknowledged that New Delhi authorities had arrested eight Malaysian nationals believed to have joined an event organized in March near the Indian capital by Tablighi Jamaat, a prominent Muslim missionary group. It did not provide details.

New Delhi authorities imposed a citywide lockdown starting on March 23, followed by a national one starting March 25, after hundreds of coronavirus cases were linked to the Tablighi gathering.

India has reported 4,778 confirmed cases with 136 deaths as of Monday, according to JHU’s latest data.

Malaysian health authorities, meanwhile, announced on Monday that about 82 people linked to a mass gathering in February at a church in Sarawak state had been infected by the virus and two deaths had been reported among that cluster of confirmed cases.

Noah Lee and Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur and Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.