JAKARTA, Feb 26, 2020, SMH. US diplomats have expressed concerns to top Indonesian government officials about their country’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, warning of the “critical” need to be seeking out and more frequently testing for the virus, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
A diplomatic source with knowledge of the meetings also revealed that ambassadors from several western nations – including the United States’ recently-departed Joseph Donovan – have raised their concerns with Indonesian Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto and senior officials.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald has seen talking points about the coronavirus outbreak that are being circulated throughout the diplomatic community in Jakarta.
These talking points, circulated by US officials, are designed to ensure foreign diplomats in closed door meetings with Indonesian health officials are delivering a consistent message about the need for Indonesia to do more to prepare for and protect itself from coronavirus.
The messages being delivered by diplomats include a warning that “we believe it is critical for your government to be actively conducting case detection”.
Another point being is “many hospitals do not have adequate PPE [personal protective equipment], not enough isolation beds and specimen transportation is inadequate”.
The reference to inadequate specimen transportation reflects concerns some of the specimens tested for coronavirus may not have been properly refrigerated in transit.
Diplomats from embassies including Australia, the US and Canada have also been meeting with each other to discuss the apparent non-spread of the virus in Indonesia.
Publicly, Indonesia’s government continues to insist it has detected zero cases of coronavirus, known as Covid-19. The illness has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide and almost 3000 have died as a result.
A US Embassy spokeswoman did not deny that former Ambassador Donovan had raised his concerns about coronavirus with Indonesia’s health minister before finishing his diplomatic posting on February 14.
Australian athletes have been told to keep training ahead of the July Olympic Games, with an assessment on whether they’ll go, to be made closer to the time.
“We routinely meet with government of Indonesia officials on a wide range of topics related to our over-70-years-long bilateral relationship. We do not discuss publicly the details of our diplomatic conversations. That said, the coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving, and like our Indonesian counterparts, we are watching it closely,” she said.
“The United States government has provided material and technical assistance to Indonesia. This assistance to Indonesia and to other countries in the region is ongoing.”
Marc Lipsitch, a Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard University and co-author of a paper that suggested it was statistically improbable there were zero coronavirus cases in Indonesia, was attacked by Health Minister Terawan for the report’s “insulting” findings.
But Lipsitch told The Herald and The Age he was not “picking on” Indonesia. The professor has warned a global pandemic is a likely scenario and 40 to 70 per cent of the world’s population could be infected by coronavirus, though that does not mean 40 to 70 per cent of people will all become ill.
The virus has spread to all of Indonesia’s neighbouring countries. The local economy has taken a financial hit and the government is preparing a stimulus package. It is increasingly difficult to purchase hand sanitiser or face masks in shops.
Indonesia has tested 136 people for the virus in a country of nearly 270 million people.
In comparison, Singapore – a country with 5.6 million people – has conducted more than 1200 tests, Malaysia (31 million) has conducted more than 1000 tests and Australia (25 million) has conducted more than 4000 tests. These figures include multiple tests on some people.
Earlier this week, top health department official Achmad Yurianto said that a Japanese man who had been diagnosed with coronavirus after returning home from a holiday in Bali had been infected with “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2″ – or SARS-CoV-2 – not Covid-19.
Covid-19 is the formal name of the disease that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Health authorities in Bali said they had begun tracing the Japanese tourist and that they had disinfected the rooms in the hotel in which the tourist stayed, though they would not reveal the name of the hotel.
“We have checked everybody who was in contact with him including the airline crew. We have also checked the travel agency staff who were in contact with him. No one has reported suffering or indicating they have been infected,” Bali Health Agency head Ketut Suarjaya said.
“We have not placed anyone in self-quarantine. We have his travel history while in Bali, we are closely monitoring people in the area. So far there’s nothing. We have not tested anyone, but we will if anyone shows symptoms.”
James Massola with Amilia Rosa. James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions, won a Kennedy Award for outstanding foreign correspondent and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue.