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Indonesia’s death toll from Covid-19 is probably 2,200 – Reuters report

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PHOTO: AP

A Reuters review of data from 16 of the Indonesia’s 34 provinces shows that more than 2,200 people have died with acute symptoms of Covid-19 but were not recorded as victims. Indonesian medical experts say the figures indicate the national death toll is likely far higher than the official figure of 765.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has one of the world’s lowest testing rates, and epidemiologists say that has made it harder to get an accurate picture of the extent of infection in the archipelago.

The most recent data from the 16 provinces included in the study, show 2,212 deaths of patients under supervision because they had acute coronavirus symptoms. Indonesia’s health ministry uses the acronym PDP to classify these patients.

The data are collated by provincial agencies daily or weekly from figures provided by hospitals, clinics and burial records. Reuters obtained the data by checking websites, interviewing provincial officials and reviewing World Health Organisation reports.

The 2,212 deaths were in addition to the deaths of 693 people who tested positive for the virus in those provinces and were officially recorded as victims of the disease.

The 16 provinces, while they amount to fewer than half of the total, account for more than three quarters of the country’s population of 264 million .

Wiku Adisasmito, a senior member of the government’s Covid-19 taskforce, did not dispute Reuters’ findings but declined to comment on the number of coronavirus victims he believes are to be found among the patients classified as PDP.

He says many of the 19,897 suspected coronavirus patients in Indonesia have not been tested because of huge numbers of specimens awaiting processing at understaffed laboratories. Some people die before their sample is analysed.

“If they have thousands or hundreds of samples they need to test, which one will they give priority? They will give priority to the people that are still alive.”

Adisasmito is the most senior expert on Indonesia’s Covid-19 taskforce, where the press office of President Joko Widodo typically refers queries. According to the Ministry of Health’s most recent Covid-19 guidelines, patients classified as PDP are those with acute respiratory illnesses for which there is no clinical explanation other than the coronavirus.

Some senior government members played down the risk of an outbreak in January and February some even suggesting that prayer, herbal remedies and hot weather would help ward off the virus. Indonesia’s death toll is now the highest in Asia after China, according to the Reuters tally.

As of yesterday, Indonesia had officially recorded 9,096 coronavirus infections. It has conducted just 210 tests per million people. Neighbouring Australia has tested 100 times more per capita, and Vietnam’s testing is around 10 times higher.

President Joko Widodo’s government has been accused by activists and his political opponents of a lack of transparency in handling the epidemic. The government says it’s taken appropriate measures, but Widodo said last month that some information was withheld from the public to prevent panic.

SOURCE: Reuters

 

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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