Jokowi pushes for greater transparency in country's Covid-19 fight

President Joko Widodo has called for greater transparency in the country’s Covid-19 pandemic fight as Indonesia grapples with the coronavirus outbreak which claimed more lives yesterday.

It marks a shift from his previous policy of withholding information, a decision Mr Joko, popularly called Jokowi at home, said was made to prevent widespread panic.

The move comes after he declared the outbreak a national disaster on Monday, and after the President was informed that the virus had spread to all provinces in the world’s fourth most populous country of nearly 270 million people.

Indonesia yesterday reported 27 more deaths from the virus, which has now claimed close to 500 lives and infected more than 5,500 people in the country.

In his push for transparency, Mr Joko has ordered all coronavirus-related information in the country to be consolidated into a single system to be managed by the nation’s Covid-19 task force.

The system should include information such as people who are being monitored, those who have tested positive for the virus, patients receiving treatment, fatalities and recovered patients.

The President, in addressing his Cabinet on Monday, said that the information should “be made transparent so that everyone can access the data”.

The next day, Indonesia disclosed for the first time that it had 10,482 patients with Covid-19 symptoms, half of whom tested positive. The government previously disclosed only confirmed cases.

The country also revealed that there were 139,137 people who had contact with confirmed cases, a figure previously not made public.

Citing Dr Pandu Riono, a University of Indonesia epidemiologist, the Jakarta Post on Wednesday reported that the country has a backlog of samples waiting to be tested in local laboratories.

Like many other countries, Indonesia is struggling to get the reagents that are used in test kits that rely on polymerase chain reactions (PCR) to check for the presence of the coronavirus.

The Straits Times understands that depleting stocks of reagents have impeded the country’s ability to quickly analyse swab tests as the number of suspected cases climbs.

Mr Joko on Monday said Indonesia was able to conduct about 2,200 tests a day.

The country, which has so far administered 40,000 PCR tests, had also ordered 18 PCR test machines manufactured by pharmaceutical company Roche.

Some of these have arrived and are currently being installed.

Professor Wiku Adisasmito, who leads the board of experts in the Covid-19 task force, said that the country is also looking at using its stock of tuberculosis test equipment that, with a minor adjustment, can be used to test for the coronavirus.

However, he added that only the more advanced units, or about a third of the 900 machines that the country has, can be modified in this way.

Indonesia had previously been identified as a high-risk country for tuberculosis by the World Health Organisation and, as a result, has a ready stock of the machines.

“This tuberculosis testing equipment would only need Covid-19 cartridges that we have ordered from the United States.

“We have this equipment across Indonesia, including at Puskesmas (community health centres),” Prof Wiku told The Straits Times, adding that Indonesia has ordered 170,000 cartridges from the US, 10,000 of which have arrived.

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